THE SYNDICATE To 17 September.

Chichester/Tour.

THE SYNDICATE
by Eduardo de Filippo new version by Mike Poulton.

Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 20 August.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & 26 May, 4, 10, 17 Aug 2.30pm.
Audio-described 5 Aug, 6 Aug 2.30pm.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
www.cft.org.uk Minerva run SOLD OUT.

then Tour to 17 September 2011.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 August.

And quiet flows the Don, in a performance of seriously comic authority.
There’s a good reason for seeing this 1960 Neapolitan play, and an overwhelming one. The first is Michael Pennington’s performance as a doctor tied to local mafia boss Antonio Barracano by loyalty and fear. As always, Pennington makes a character’s thought-processes fresh-seeming, expressed in a richly curlicued voice.

The other is Ian McKellen as the mafia capo. It’s clear in the way everyone calibrates their morning behaviour around whether he’s still asleep that he rules the roost – and an extensive estate.

In one of his Prefaces, George Bernard Shaw says the British in India kept equality among the population by ensuring inequality between British and Indians. By ruling his district single-handedly and ignoring official channels, Don Antonio also keeps the peace. At 75 he arranges to avoid the local feuding that could follow his death. Ironically, it’s Pennington’s doctor who is finally in the position to set vendettas going by revealing a vital truth.

The Don, after morning exercise, takes a gentlemanly stroll to makes someone an offer they probably can’t refuse. He’s open about the early violence he no longer needs in benign age, as a one-man community spirit calling the shots (as far as possibly not literally – bloodshed occurs only when people don’t resort to him) and deciding all quarrels.

He’s certainly sympathetic in McKellen’s fine yet never effusive performance, accommodating all moods, taking people with him as he works socratically towards a judgement, weighing arguments in facial expression as well as words.

De Filippo wrote the part for himself, as celebrated Neapolitan actor running his own company. Local audiences knew his ways as writer and actor. The heaped platefuls of exposition and mound of barely-used characters aren’t familiar here and now; nor can today’s English theatregoers bring the early audiences’ awareness of the play’s setting and the playwright’s manner.

And there’s a lot of so-so, predictable acting, sometimes mainly a matter of external cries and gestures, in Sean Mathias’ production. But Pennington’s deliberate manner, unassertive till the end, and McKellen’s ability to show the gangster turned peacekeeper in myriad apt details, are both worth a night out.

Immacolata: Jane Bertish.
Geraldina/Vicenza: Margaret Clunie.
Gennaro/Peppe Ciucciu: Philip Correia.
Doctor Fabio Della Ragione: Michael Pennington.
Palumiello: Michael Stevenson.
Catiello/Luigi: David Shaw-Parker.
Nait: Michael Thomson.
Don Antonio Barracano: Ian McKellen.
Vicienzo Cuozzo: Brendan O’Hea.
Pascale Nasone: David Foxxe.
Rafiluccio Santaniello: Gavin Fowler.
Rita: Annie Hemingway.
Donna Armida Bassacano: Cherie Lunghi.
Amedeo/Zibachiello: Mark Edel-Hunt.
Arturo Santaniello: Oliver Cotton.
Nasone’s Wife: Janet Spencer-Turner.

Director: Sean Mathias.
Designer: Angela Davies.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Music: Jason Carr.
Assistant director: Jason Lawson.
Associate lighting: Sonic Harrison.

2011-08-03 13:46:55

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