Adelaide Fringe

Mussolini – Adelaide Fringe 2011

Presented by the Centre for International Theatre
Reviewed Wednesday 23rd February 2011

Venue: Art Base, Higher Ground, Light Square, Adelaide
Season: 7:30pm to 13 March 2011, no performance 28th Feb.
Duration: 60mins
Tickets: all tickets $23/group 6+ $20

The Italian leader comes under the microscope as actor/writer Ross Gurney-Randall takes us on a 20 year journey, from the loss of Mussolini’s control of his year seven mathematics class to the loss of control of his command in the Second World War. His ineptitude is highlighted at every turn in the witty script, co-written with Dave Mounfield and directed with a keen eye for the ridiculous by Paul Hodson.

We begin with a stirringly confident speech, and then discover that both the Allies and Italian partisans are closing in fast and that, for the Duce, all is lost. He desperately tries to hold everything together as it crumbles into the dust of history. He tries, but fails, to escape to Switzerland disguised as a German soldier and is captured by partisans. He was shot shortly after.

With the aid of a suitcase of souvenirs of his past, sent to him by his wife, Mussolini recalls his journey from childhood to his impending end. He tells of his father, a blacksmith who taught himself to read so as to absorb the teachings of Karl Marx and pass them on to his son. His mother was a staunch Catholic. We hear of the manifesto that Mussolini took with him when he went to claim the post of Prime Minister in 1922, filled with laudable ideas such as universal suffrage and proportional representation, and how he quickly compromised and the whole thing was overturned. Power was more important than ideals.

Expelled from the Socialist party for his support of the First World War, he created the Fascist party, in a radical swing from left to right wing politics. He removed anybody who stood in his way, including his own son-in-law, was responsible for deaths of countless hundreds of thousands of people during his dictatorship, and had a string of mistresses and casual sexual encounters with female supporters. He also suffered from stress, caused in no small part by the interferences of his protégée, Adolf Hitler.

Ross Gurney-Randell brings us all of this history in a satirical expose of the feared, hated, and oft-ridiculed dictator. He offers a brilliantly wide ranging performance in which he switches instantly from the despotic overlord attempting to rally his dwindling supporters, to a gibbering wreck at the sound of a British aircraft overhead, from the swaggering seducer, to a cringing heap at the sound of Hitler’s voice in his head. He does simply make Mussolini a figure of fun and treat this a broad comedy, however, as we see the vicious and vindictive side of the dictator too. Although the satire is sharp and clearly shows the incompetence and arrogance of the man, Gurney-Randell never lets us forget the hideous reality of Mussolini’s reign. His only generally remembered good point is the often quoted line, “at least he made the trains run on time”.

This is a sterling performance by Ross Gurney-Randell, encompassing all aspects of Mussolini’s life and personality. He makes us laugh at Mussolini but, at the same time, he ensures that there is some discomfort in so doing, knowing the full import of the Duce’s rule. This is a carefully weighed study that will have you laughing on the one hand and heeding the warnings of the past on the other. Be sure to get a ticket.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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