Although the Pleasance Zoo specialises in thoughtful and thought-provoking theatre, this venue has also got a surprisingly big, even cavernous heart. I have come to more shows at the Zoo than I can now count but I have never penetrated the interior of the Sanctuary before. This third theatre was only made available last year, along with the Zoo’s new bar. The Sanctuary is the largest of the Zoo’s theatres, both in the size of the space and the seating capacity, and there is potentially an element of betrayal in this. The distinctive intimacy of the other two theatres is absent. But today the heart of the Zoo is filled with love and it is love as love should be: expressive, desperate, a bit cheesy, and very Italian.
With “Machina” we do Italian for lunch, for this light midday comedy is as staunchly, stylishly Italian as spaghetti and meatballs. This play becomes a little concert of the Italian accent’s enchanting music (there are also subtitles), as well as treating an Edinburgh audience to the novelty of commedia dell’arte, a masked, carnivalesque theatre from the sixteenth century. I thought that I knew next to nothing about commedia dell’arte, but the atmosphere, the irascibility and sheer squeakiness of it, is instantly recognisable to me from the UK’s seaside Punch and Judy shows. Mr Punch indeed shares some significant DNA with the beak-nosed Pulcinella from the commedia.
Malcostume Compagnia Teatrale, who have engineered “Machina,” trade in the commedia’s open-air authenticity for something smaller, with a faint flavour of postmodernity to it. There is enough authenticity left though for the play to remain raucous and unusual. A lone masked performer (Gian Marco Pellecchia) introduces the story and he at times takes up threads of it himself. There is a gormless, hopeless stock lover, a swashbuckling Capitano and his long-lost twin brother, and a pompous, vinegary old man called Pantalone, who would qualify as a villain if he was not quite so pigeon-brained. Most of these characters are projected as filmed footage on to a house-front formation of screens, whilst the narrator tries to maintain order from the doorway. There are gloomy synths and frolics with the sound for atmosphere.
You are often smiling along to “Machina.” It is all charming and perfectly controlled but it still seems like too small a piece of theatre. So I’m not going to forget the name of this company – hopefully there will be subsequent Fringes and larger, more ambitious productions.