This review comes from Night Writes guest reviewer Gabriella Florek
Perhaps the big challenge for any adaptation is making the decision of how it will relate to the original text. Regardless of what is kept, culled, or changed, there is often still a feeling of responsibility to keep some essence of what the writer of the story intended or, if not, to directly challenge and subvert it. Then of course, there is the argument that a new interpretation should be judged as a stand alone work and shouldn’t be critiqued in relation to whatever came before it. No matter which path is taken, the audience is always going to bring with them their own expectations as to what the text means to them, what they would like to see, and what they think it should mean.
Stephen Nicolazzo’s production of Looking for Alibrandi is full of warmth and heart, capturing the boldness of the original novel and film. Vidya Rajan has kept the text as a coming of age story, highlighting its comedies and turbulence, but she leaves room for a new theatrical reimagining which Nicolazzo seems to have taken great joy in running with.
The set design by Kate Davis immediately threw us into the old Italian world of Josie’s (Chanella Macri) Nonna (Jennifer Vuletic). There was something surreal, almost dreamlike about it with its garish carpet, high piles of vegetable crates, and other niche kitchen appliances including a barrel-sized simmering pot that appeared to exist specifically for the production of tomato sauce. It was an excellent backdrop for the play to unfold as, no matter how far we got thrust into the story, we were never far from Nonna’s Italy, Josie’s heritage, and the Alibrandi curse.
The three Alibrandi women were a highly formidable force on stage. Vuletic’s Nonna was a special balance of neurotic, comic, and loveable: we laughed at her antics, cringed at her cruelty, and cried as she relived her own heartbreak. Lucia Mastrantone embodied the struggles and strengths of a young but headstrong single mother, caught between two worlds that pulled her in different directions. She played the role with a delicacy that never undermined her vigour. Then of course there was Josie, played by Marci, a wonderfully comic and warm portrayal of a teenager grappling with her place in the world, while keeping the bastards at bay and staying afloat through the unpredictable waves of change.
Occasionally, it felt like there was some nuance missing in the cultural portrayal of the characters, especially as the comedy seemed to rely a lot on stereotype and, at times, slapstick. This also meant that some of the more serious moments took a while to hit, as though we were prepared more for laughter than we were sorrow. Despite this, there were still some beautifully poignant moments towards the end of the show and, as we were swept up with Josie’s own coming of age coming to an end, perhaps we found ourselves celebrating or reflecting on our own coming of age stories – the people who made us and the awkward, painful experiences we lived to get to where we are.
For all the fanfare around the original Australian classic, Nicolazzo and the entire creative team have done a beautiful job of bringing this special Looking for Alibrandi to life. They remind us both why the story was so special upon its original release and the potential it has for continuing to inspire and engage us today.
Looking for Alibrandi is running at Belvoir from October 1st – November 6th
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