Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
A Bench On The Road, is quite clearly a passion project for writer/director Laura Passetti – and how gratifying it must have be for her to see the Assembly Roxy packed (almost literally) to the rafters with tonight’s eager and appreciative audience. This is a slice of verbatim theatre, based on the testimonies of female immigrants who travelled from Italy to Scotland to begin new lives. Here are their stories plucked from different points in one hundred years of history – twenty five million Italians left their homeland between 1850 and 1950 and thousands of them chose to settle in Scotland – and yet, with what’s currently happening in the Mediterranean, this really could not be a more prescient production, examining exactly what it means to be a migrant, how it feels to leave the land of your birth in search of a new life. As Passetti (an Italian immigrant herself) told me during the brief chat we had earlier this month, history has a habit of repeating itself.
Perhaps the play’s most effective sequences are those set during the Second World War when the rise of fascism under Mussolini impacted on those Italians who had already relocated to Scotland, where parents were forcibly separated from those children who had been born in their new homeland.
Simply but effectively staged, by Charioteer Theatre, the play features three Italian and three Scottish actors with accordian player, Caroline Anderson Hussey. Jaunty Italian dance songs are counterpointed by plaintive Scottish airs, cleverly underlining the clash of cultures. The performances are all exemplary and the harmonies as the six actors join together in song are sometimes exquisite. If there’s an occasional problem with catching lines of dialogue, it’s more to do with being perched right at the back of the sizable theatre space than with any shortcomings on the actor’s part. This is powerful stuff and my only regret is that we caught it at the very end of its short tour, instead of at the beginning, where we could have urged more people to see it..
The performance concludes to an ecstatic standing ovation and I can’t help feeling that this is a production that deserves a wider audience. Looking around at the delighted faces of tonight’s crowd, there’s every reason to believe that A Bench On The Road could just find it.