New flight of theatrical fancy

Italian-based fantasy theatre company Teatro Kismet are renowned for creating some spectacular looking shows. They are regular visitors to Suffolk having established close links with the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal and the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.

Last year the company brought its stylish production of The Snow Queen to both Suffolk venues. Founded as a co-operative in 1981, Teatro Kismet tours across Europe with its own highly distinctive take on folk-tales and fairytales. Next month the international company will be treating Suffolk audiences to their latest production The Mermaid Princess, a new and distinctive adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Combining theatre, dance and circus skills, Teatro Kismet has quickly established its own style of theatre which is born out of director Teresa Ludovico’s highly visual brand of story-telling. What makes the company so special is its ability to cross the divide between children’s and adult theatre. Teresa Ludovico’s eye for spectacle and story means that she produces productions which captivate both young and old to produce genuine family theatre.

Interviewed through an interpreter, Teresa Ludovico said that the using fairy tales, classic myths and legends for their work meant that their work not only had cross generational appeal but also played well anywhere in Europe as these stories were universally known and widely understood.

Ludovico described this new production as a fairly free adaptation of the Hans Andersen original. “Following Beauty and the Beast and The Snow Queen, The Mermaid Princess completes a trilogy dedicated to both children and adults. It allows both young and old to share together the powerful narrative and the magical dimensions of the fairy tale.

“My shows are akin to dreams, where the story I tell addresses questions that connect with children and adults alike. Music, dance, masks and physical storytelling combine to create a lucid and evocative production.”

She said her characters exist in a universe suspended out of time. “They are iridescent figures seemingly stolen from an eighteenth century painting, who travel between earth, sea and sky.

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“This mesmerizing tale reflects the constantly fluctuating nature of existence, a continuing metamorphoses where there is no ‘happy ever after’ but has an eventuality which is unique.”

This brand new English speaking production utilises evocative imagery, magical drama and poetic text with depth and sophistication allowing all ages to experience this atmospheric piece.

The Mermaid Princess tells the moving story of a mermaid living deep in the ocean with a spellbindingly beautiful voice. She rescues a shipwrecked prince and falls in love with him, requesting a mortal transformation from a sea witch who demands her sublime singing voice in return.

As well, she is warned that she will turn into sea foam should she fail to marry the prince. After accepting, Mermaid becomes mute and her prince marries another. Heartbroken, Mermaid kills her prince, escaping her destiny but the prince’s new bride transforms into sea foam which in turn becomes a cloud of mist and takes off into the sky.

She said that her fantastical take on theatre is partly the result of her fascination with theatre in the Far East. “I love oriental theatre, which for centuries has used dance, theatre and music to tell stories, but also the necessity to envelop the audience in a dreamlike, fairy-tale atmosphere.

“Fairy tales and myths represent the heritage that our ancestors left us to show us the way to knowledge. In the past these stories were used to chaperone us throughout life’s passages, but the young today are often left to their own devices during these difficult stages. I believe that as adults, we have a great responsibility towards them.

“The stories that I end up staging usually present themselves to me spontaneously and they almost always raise questions which are relevant to me, in relation to the world around me, at that particular point in my life.”

The company recruits performers from a wide variety of nations and performs in a variety of languages but because the emphasis on the performance is invariably focused on the physical, dialogue is not always necessary to keep the narrative moving.

“It’s not easy to find actors with multiple skills that are also able to act in various languages. I usually organise workshop-auditions at least one year prior to the beginning of any production. I tend to look for new artists only when those I work with don’t meet the requirements of a role.”

But, despite the success of Teatro Kismet, Teresa doesn’t believe her style of performing will necessarily replace what some people refer to as traditional narrative theatre. “In my opinion this form of theatre is neither the way forward nor the “current way”. There are no such rules. The stories I have been telling throughout these years needed the theatrical languages I used, in order to reach the audience. Last year I re-wrote and directed Moli�re’s The Hypochondriac , where text plays an important part, there are no acrobatics on stage only a strong movement direction. Even so the show contains elements characteristic of my style, such as the particular use of space or the characterizations, close to the stock characters of commedia dell’arte. One can create a great show where only a chair is used, while actors perform a piece of straight theatre for two hours: the important thing is for the show to be “alive” and of the highest quality.”

She added that designing a show for an international audience is really no different to directing a production for a local Italian audience. “Audiences are the same all over the world, in as much as they are made up of people with the same feelings and the same anxieties. The most important thing when I write a show is that it should come from a vital necessity; then I pick two ideal members of the audience, a child and an elderly person, so as not to forget about the importance of simplicity and about the richness of the experience.”

Bridging the gap between young and old is an important part of the Teatro Kismet experience. In their home town of Bari, in southern Italy, the company manages two theatres and runs a successful annual children’s theatre festival, Maggio all’ Infanzia. All its activity feeds into creating a diverse programme which is then fed into their touring programme.

Never one to rest on her laurels Teresa is now starting to adapt classic theatre as well as classic folk-tales. After last year’s new adaptation of The Hypochondriac she will be looking for others to adapt. Her next piece of classic literature is likely to be Mariveaux’s The Island of Slaves.

So does she have a favourite production or one she felt worked particularly well?

“I love all my shows, even those that haven’t worked as well as expected, because they have helped me to go through a journey. The Mermaid Princess is particularly close to my heart as it’s a show which deals with the difficulty we have in accepting the various transformations life has in store for us. Furthermore it’s performed by a cast who bring with them a mixture of fragility and strength: youth.”

When The Mermaid Princess is safely on the road Teresa will be re-staging two of her earlier shows in Tokyo with Japanese casts. Once they are up and running then she’s back in Italy to direct a new show produced by Teatro Kismet, written by Gianrico Carofiglio before writing a new show on the theme of wickedness.

Teatro Kismet’s The Mermaid Princess, directed by Teresa Ludovico will be performed at Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal from April 7-10. Tickets are available online at www.theatreroyal.org or by phoning 01284 769505. It then move into the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich from April 14-17. Tickets are available online at www.wolseytheatre.co.uk or by phoning the box office on 01473 295900.

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