site search by freefind advanced

 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

The Visitation of Mr Collioni

Touring in Spring 2004.

From The Times.

Two stars
Have you ever had an angel on your shoulder? Mr Collioni, the Venetian owner of a London café, is so busy searching for angelic presences that he hardly notices his down-at-heel new waitress, Margaret, is shedding feathers everywhere. Could she possibly be his guardian angel?

This devised piece is inspired by short stories from Anna Maria Murphy, a poet who in the past has supplied some sharp verses for the Kneehigh theatre company. But what here might have been a beguiling piece of whimsy ends up as an earthbound muddle.

Collioni’s angel hunting and Margaret’s private poetic reveries (“Cappucino-frappacino-double-latte-expresso your feelings”) that suggest she’s had one coffee too many aren’t the half of it. We also encounter forbidden love, Catholic guilt — even a pregnant woman up a tree during a Venetian flood.

Collioni’s celestial fixation, we gradually learn in a confusingly diffuse fashion, stems from a wartime childhood experience: when he was abandoned by relatives in Italy, a cake-giving stranger guided him safely to London and inspired his career as a master baker. The origins of Collioni’s conception and birth also reveal the affair between a priest and a shy Catholic woman.

The expansive, exuberant tales of Louis de Bernières and Isabel Allende would have comfortably accommodated a story like this, which flits from religiosity to farce, from a London patisserie to a storm-tossed Venice. But Catherine Church and Richard Cuming’s touring production for the Winchester-based Platform 4 company needs a firmer directorial hand.

On a cluttered stage, the use of such items as an overturned table and a glass-fronted cake cabinet seems less about driving the narrative and more about achieving individual effects. Perhaps Collioni’s family history is being transmitted through his heavenly-host detectors — an old wireless set and a Heath Robinson jumble of wires. If so, they are obviously faulty because the picture remains fuzzy throughout.

When not reduced to a series of sketch-like caricatures, Colin Michael Carmichael and Sarah Thom impress in their central roles: he turns the eccentric café owner into a touchingly forlorn figure; she’s a memorable mixture of public dowdiness and seething private passion.

But, as so often with devised pieces, the collective ethos has led to woolly storytelling. If only a guardian angel had been on hand during rehearsals to show them the way.