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Trumpets and Raspberries

By Dario Fo

Like so many of Fo’s plays, Trumpets and Raspberries presents two distinct problems to any theatre company thinking of staging it. One lies in the script and the other in the staging. If the play weren’t so brilliantly funny we would have given up. However, having directed Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay many years ago, Darian knew just how rewarding Dario Fo can be: for actors, crew and of course for audiences.

The play, originally called Clacson, Trombette e Pernacchi (Car horns, trumpets and raspberries) was first staged in 1981. It centres on a real political figure, Agnelli who was head of the Fiat corporation. The political references and jokes throughout the play rely on an audience having a solid understanding of Italian politics of the 60s and 70s. There are references to other famous figures, incidents and political groups peppered throughout the script. In order to retain the essential Italian humour without confusing modern audiences we chose to update the politics to more recent times. What could be more relevant and amusing than the recent ‘celibate’ campaign for office by Silvio Berlusconi?

So now our play involves the kidnapping and accidental maiming of Berlusconi and the subsequent re-building of his face by a god like plastic surgeon. Unfortunately he is working from the wrong blue prints (photos!) and so we end up with two identical looking characters at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Confused? Not half as confused as everyone else is! With secret agents and special forces coming out of the woodwork at every turn (literally!) the scene is set for a classic Fo farce. It’s fast and physical and very, very funny.

As for the second problem I mentioned at the beginning (you know, the one about staging) well suffice to say animated furniture and a window with a mind of its own are merely challenges to Tony Wood and his team at Northend Productions. There isn’t a set yet written that they can’t build.


The playwright - Dario Fo

Dario Fo was born on 26 March 1926 in San Giano, a small town on Lago Maggiore in the province of Varese. His father was a part time actor in an amateur theatre company and Dario spent vacations with his maternal grandfather, who had a farm in Lomellina.

During Dario’s visits, his grandfather would travel around the countryside selling his produce from a big, horse-drawn wagon. To attract customers he would tell the most amazing stories, and in these stories he would insert news and anecdotes about local events. It was from his grandfather that Dario began to learn the rudiments of narrative rhythm. As the boy grew, he would sit in the taverns or the piazze and listen tirelessly to the master glass-blowers and fishermen, who – in the oral tradition of the fabulatore – would swap tall tales, steeped in pungent political satire.

At the end of the war, Dario turns his attention to stage design and theatre décor. He begins to improvise monologues. In the immediate postwar years, Italian theatre undergoes a veritable revolution, pushed along mainly by the new phenomenon of piccoli teatri [“small theatres”] that play a key role in developing the idea of a “popular stage”. In 1959 Fo and his wife Franca Rame founded the first of their theatre companies.

To date Dario Fo has written over 70 plays, many in collaboration with Franca Rame. He has directed and performed in theatres all over the world and is one of the world’s most performed playwrights with his plays being produced in 54 countries. He has been refused entry to the USA for alleged Communist sympathies, been attacked, threatened with assassination, censored, banned for 15 years from Italian state owned radio and TV and Franca Rame was once kidnapped and raped by facists opposed to their work.

In 1997 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his acceptance speech he said: “…when the theatre is ironic, grotesque, it’s above all then that you have to defend it, because the theatre that makes people laugh is the theatre of human reason.”

This has been adapted from Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1997, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1998 and translated by Paul Claesson. It was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures.