‘The Virtuous Burglar’ was madness.
Dario Fo’s absurd comedy ‘The Virtuous Burglar’ at Anywhere Festival Brisbane was not what I was expecting. What a delight and a surprise! Tucked away at the Old Jo-Jo’s Restaurant in South Brisbane, this small but mighty show was the debut piece by Xth Act, a collective of acting graduates, who combined traditional farce with contemporary elements to deliver a darkly delicious and humourous piece.
‘The Virtuous Burglar’ was written by Italian playwright Dario Fo who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature. Upon research, he was given the award for “scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”, which is what ‘The Virtuous Burglar’ does. It twists our usual notions of robbers and villains, instead making the ‘victims’ the ones that are truly mad, evil and corrupt. In fact, the play is originally titled ‘Non tutti i ladri vengono a nuocere’, which directly translates to ‘Not all thieves come to harm’.
In Xth Act’s contemporary retelling of ‘Burglar’, the victims of the crime hold wealth, privilege and are generally unlikeable people, while the burglar simply wants to go about his business and probably grab a beer when the work is done. The story centres around simple man Barry Tornati who breaks into the house of adulterer Hugh McMair, who consequently arrives home mid-robbery with lover Julia Dubois. Down the track, McMair’s wife and Dubois’s husband arrive, plus Tornati’s wife and a second burglar who is too late to the party. It’s a hilarious whirlwind of confusion, involving white lies, tall tales and misunderstandings.
Old Jo-Jo’s restaurant was the perfect space for this contemporised performance. The stage was set by a red couch and a lifesize paper drawing of a grandfather clock, and the modern backdrop of the restaurant transported us to a Teneriffe apartment.
Sound Design by Arlee Aplaon brought a great sense of absurdity to the performance, playing the classic ‘Pink Panther; themesong at the beginning and the Can-Can at the end when chaos broke out.
Director Heidi Gledhill honoured the farcical style and took it even further. The pace was tight, the punchlines were on point and this farce was done well, especially with a satisfying 60-minute run time. Movement, in particular, was a highlight of the show as the characters were always in action and on edge. True to Fo’s commedia dell’arte roots, the physical exaggerations of the characters ensured there was never a dull moment.
While it was mainly all fun and games, there were some sobering moments where characters went too far, such as when Hugh McMair put a gun to his head and would have pulled the trigger had it not been for the drone of the grandfather clock. To me, these moments were times of pause from comedy, bringing us back to reality. However, the elephant in the room was how gender was represented, which Gledhill handled with flair and respect. It was refreshing to see crossdress played honestly on the stage for traditional female roles – Lachie Mackie as Julia Dubois and Arlee Aplaon as Karen Tornati. It’s that truth and flexibility of identity which correlates to the freedom of farce so well.
The cast delivered rip-roaring and committed performances. Connor Kenny was the honest Barry Tornati, Arlee Aplaon played the aggravated Karen Tornati, Lachie Mackie as the Real Housewife of Teneriffe Julia Dubois, Scott Mair as the aggressive and cocky Hugh McMair, Laura Perrett played the captain of the house Anna McMair, Matthew Gregory pulled off a stunning French accent as Phillipe Dubois, and Kathryn Becher played a bemused Second Burglar in the last scene.
‘The Virtuous Burglar’ at Anywhere Festival is a must-see. The energy and hilarity of the piece was engaging and had the audience hooked from the start. After all, there’s nothing quite like watching a bunch of people going crazy, is there?
‘The Virtuous Burglar’ performs until Saturday, 14 May at Old Jo Jo’s Restaurant, South Brisbane. For more information visit the Anywhere Festival website.
Photos provided by Xth Act