Reviews: La Locandiera

The Times (Thursday 2nd September 2010)

The Dublin-based company Wonderland, founded in 2003 by Alice Coghlan, staged her adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s robust comedy La Locandiera in a brightly-lit room at the Vittoria Restaurant in Edinburgh. The audience were treated like guests at an inn in 18th-century Florence, observing the action as we downed a lip-smacking three-course meal. Featuring six game actors, some of whom helped to serve the food, this was a hearty, enjoyable piece of dinner-theatre centred round 18th-century sexual politics and slightly reminiscent of The Taming of the Shrew.

Claire Jenkins played the saucy, scheming innkeeper Mirandolina in the spirit of a young Gina Lollobrigida, with a handful of mainly doting men understandably sucked into her bounteous orbit. Chief among them was Connolly Heron’s Ulster Gentleman, a skinny-legged figure whose staunch resistance to the fairer sex was gradually whittled away.

By the time that dessert came round this self-styled woman-hater was more than ready to eat out of her hand. There was also particularly good support from Damien O’Donnell as two contrasting manservants, one of whom demonstrated a nice line in ad-lib exchanges with the paying punters.

Fringe Guru, Edinburgh Fringe Festival  (Tuesday 24th August 2010) ✮✮✮✮

It’s not every day that you enter a twenty-first century Italian restaurant and find yourself in an eighteenth century Florentine inn. This is just what Wonderland’s production of La Locandiera delivers, however, in an innovative and highly entertaining evening of revelry, fine wine, great food, and interesting, if unconventional, company.

This particular company is made up of an avowed misogynist, a shameless scrounger, a presumptuous and persistent benefactor and of course the coquettish Mirandolina, mistress of the inn, played superbly by Claire Jenkins. Connolly Heron, as the initially steel-hearted woman-hater, does the traditionally comic transition from love-hater to love-slave particularly well; and the play proves a raucous and hilarious example of mans insecurities, womans infidelities and loves indignities.

The Italian restaurant that is the venue for La Locandiera is a fitting venue for this comedy set in 1750s Florence, and the play sits remarkably well within the evenings programme, with the three acts coinciding with the three courses of the meal. Given that it is first and foremost a theatrical performance, uninspiring food might be forgiven, but there is no need to make excuses for the menu at Restaurant Vittoria; it proves to be good value for money and, happily, decidedly twenty-first century.

The food,however, is one of the only apparently modern factors in the room in which the performance is staged: the cast frequently double as waiters, so that the audience become the guests at Mirandolina?s inn, privy to the same flirtatious behaviour as her onstage customers. The women in the audience, too, will feel privileged to be courted by some of Mirandolina’s many suitors, and anyone who would feel uncomfortable being serenaded by a man with a wig and powdered face should make an effort to avoid eye contact with the performers.

The company, then, manage to transform this small area into what genuinely feels like an eighteenth century tavern, and the acting, omic and lively, cannnot be faulted…

It is the experience as a whole that is worth paying for. In the huge programme of shows at the Fringe, La Locandiera, with its well-translated and modernised script, charismatic cast and ingenious staging, is memorable and charming.

The Skinny, Edinburgh Fringe Festival (August 2010) ✮✮✮✮

One of the more expensive nights on the Fringe – admittedly justified by the four course meal – La Locandiera is a thoroughly contemporary take on the classic dinner theatre and an eighteenth century classic. Revolving around a battle of the sexes, which is equally a battle of national temperaments, it is an early entry in the gender wars of the modern era.

If the sexual politics are firmly hetero-normative, the script has sympathy for both male and female. Even the villain, an Ulster Gentleman, is given justification: the heroine, the Italian innkeeper, is morally ambiguous enough to be both temptress and puritan. Light comedy from a pair of aristocratic suitors rounds out the plot – their rivalry is both the context for the central conflict and a curt satire on the obsessions with money and status.

The proceedings gallop along, musical interludes break up the arguments about men and women and the elongated seduction, the misogynist is defeated and the appropriate marriage is arranged. The whole cast are delightful, the serious issues are treated with appropriate levity and the interactions between cast and audience are beautifully handled.

An example of how imaginative setting – an Italian restaurant – and clear direction can take an apparently irrelevant play and make it engaging, Wonderland Productions have reinvented light entertainment with a starter of lush costume, a side order of philosophical debate, a main course of excellent performances and a sweet desert of song and dance.

Three Weeks, Edinburgh Fringe Festival  (Saturday 14th August 2010) ✮✮✮✮

Thespian and culinary treats abound in this unique and playful site-specific production of Goldoni’s classic Italian comedy, which takes place in Edinburgh’s stylish Vittoria Restaurant.
The audience find themselves in the midst of the action, tucking into their dinner as lively banter and sword fights literally surround them. The talented cast of six – most notably, Damien O’Donnell (Fabrizio/The Manservant) – establish a great rapport with the audience, skilfully transforming the intimate space into an eighteenth-century Florentine inn, and bursting now and then into joyous song.

Eccentric characters, live music and a witty script coupled with creative staging and inspired direction by Alice Coghlan make for a memorable theatrical experience; we piled out of the venue with full bellies and full hearts.

Edinburgh Spotlight, Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Tuesday 10th August 2010)

In Goldoni’s La Locandiera or ‘The Mistress of the Inn’, the gentlemen fall at the feet of said mistress – all bar one, known in this production as ‘The Ulster Gentleman’. He has professed himself a hater of women who has never been in love and never will: bit of a challenge that – and La Locandiera herself, Mirandolina, takes it up to amusing and even thought-provoking effect.

This battle of the sexes is tantalisingly presented in one of Edinburgh’s most popular Italian restaurants complete with a four course meal (menu available from Wonderland Productions’ website). The food is fine and the story is very engaging as Mirandolina continues to play with her numerous competitive beaux while pursuing the affections of the recalcitrant gentleman.

The performances are confident and Mirandolina herself easily holds centre stage with a witty, teasing and layered performance. The audience is treated to bantering interaction from the cast, Goldoni’s witty dialogue amusingly delivered and enjoyed, and actors filling the space, seemingly familiar with the restaurant’s bar and handling these real props well. Fine serenading accompanies the food and punctuates the action, using popular pieces both classical and modern.

The laid-back feel of the presentation sometimes lacks forward momentum, though both Mirandolina and the Conte – her extravagantly rich admirer – tend to push things on again. The actor playing her loyal servant (and would-be husband) Fabrizio plays with the audience very well, also in his guise as the Ulster Gent’s servant.

The show itself is entertaining, both witty and interesting, and the nature of this dinner-entertainment presentation means that the company you keep and atmosphere in the restaurant will definitely contribute to your enjoyment of the piece.

Irish Mail on Sunday (Sunday 15th March 2009) ✮✮✮✮

Delicious Florentine Fancy
If you fancy an unusual evening out, you couldn’t do better than this eighteenth century Italian comedy of love and manners, which includes in the ticket price an excellent three-course tapas meal with wine.

Wonderland Productions has been making the running in recent years with site-specific presentations and this one is perfect for the intimate setting of the Port House Tapas Bar which, for the night, becomes the Florentine inn of the flirtatious Mirandolina, the hostess of the title. The action occurs in the inn, between the bar and the tables where the audiences sit as punters with whom the cast often interact.

The wealthy old roué (Mal Whyte) competes with a penniless marquis (Neill Fleming) and the humble waiter (Damien O’Donnell) for the hand of Mirandolina (Claire Jenkins). But the arrogant gentleman from Ulster (Connolly Heron) scoffs at the idiocy of men humiliating themselves for women.

The feisty Mirandolina sets out to break down the Irishman’s self-assurance and there is some lovely interaction between Jenkins and Heron in this teasing battle of the sexes. The characters also sing songs to guitar accompaniment. The comic touch is so assured that they even get away with playing the Dean Martin hit, That’s Amore.

The tantalising question is whether Mirandolina is looking for the love of the Irishman or simply using her wiles to conquer his misogyny. The brisk comedy ridicules the pretensions of the aristocracy while applauding the ordinary folk. Damien O’Donnell doubles splendidly as the Irishman’s manservant.

Translation and direction are by Alice Coghlan, who makes expert use of the small space. It’s the sort of show that returns play-going to the realms of pure entertainment.

Sunday Business Post  (Sunday 8th March 2009) ✮✮✮✮

Wonderland Production’s new site-specific show blends live theatre with gourmet dining. Based on Carlo Goldoni’s 18th century comedy, it transforms the Port House tapas bar in Dublin city centre into a Florentine inn.

The bare brick walls of the restaurant require little set dressing, and the candlelit ambience laid out by the frock-coated, guitar strumming actors and the ravishing landlady Mirandolina set the scene for the complex romantic games that will unfold.

The audience are treated by the actors as guests, charming them with playful eye contact and direct asides. The cast confidently negotiates a two way relationship with the spectators, although it never becomes intrusive.

The comedy is an old-fashioned kind – four men vexed by a woman’s wily ways – but the eventual reversal, in which Mirandolina manipulates her happy-ever after, could almost be read as an early proto-feminist gesture. But the drama is more playful than political.

In a traditional theatre setting, this would make for gently amusing theatre, but what makes La Locandiera so special is that the dining experience that Wonderland Productions simultaneously offers the audience. This is not merely because the ticket price includes a three course meal and a glass of wine, but because the idea is so well integrated into the action.

At the end of the first act, for example, Mirandolina herself serves us while confessing her devious plan. It is an intimate, charming conceit.

The cast provides transitional musical entertainment between the acts – Damien O’Donnell on guitar, the irrepressible Mal Whyte on bodhrán, and Claire Jenkins sweet voiced Mirandolina singing with support from Connolly Heron and Neil Fleming.

Director Alice Coghlan makes a slight slip here with her choice of music, crowd-pleasing anthems like That’s Amore break the otherwise carefully constructed frame. However, Tara Jones Hamilton’s brilliantly constructed costumes- which survive close scrutiny even in this intimate setting – are testament to the attention to detail that Coghlan achieves throughout La Locandiera.

This is not just an unusual event, but one that is executed almost to perfection.

Lucy White, Metro  (Friday 6th March 2009) ✮✮✮✮

Florentine fops, farce and feminine wiles combine for a unique night of 18th century Carlo Goldoni entertainment upstairs at the Port House tapas bar. Mirandolina (Claire Jenkins) is ‘La Locandiera’ – an inn keeper and a coquette to boot, driving her male tenants to distraction, among them the Marchese (Neill Fleming), a poodle-haired miserly dandy and The Conte (Mal Whyte) a powder puffed nobleman who showers her with diamonds. She ‘treats herself to all of them’ once in a while, but by massaging their egos rather than their sweaty breeches, which only makes them want her more. But when an Ulster Gentleman (Connolly Heron) checks in and declares that he is ‘the enemy of all women and Italian women in particular’ proclaiming that he would rather ‘endure a latent strain of malaria’ than marriage, the furious Mirandolina vows to vindicate her sex by making him fall in love with her.

An exuberant battle of the sexes ensues between the restaurants tables, the buffoonery interspersed with live Neapolitan arias, folk and pop songs. Wisely Jenkins represents Mirandolina as a woman’s woman rather than a brazen hussy, winning over the female members of the audience with conspiratorial asides, and Damien O’Donnell plays both Fabrizio and the Gentleman’s manservant charmingly…

La Locandiera is a tasty prospect, not least for the three course dinner and a glass of wine that accompanies the performance.

The Irish Times (Sunday 8th March 2009)

“The savage Irish beast slowly moves towards domestication!” The comedy La Locandiera was written by Carlo Goldoni in Venice in 1753. A cheeky, frothy piece about playacting, which questions the role of women in Italian society, it brought to the stage the character of a seductive, feisty and independently minded innkeeper called Mirandolina.

Mirandolina is a woman who controls not just the purse-strings but the hearts and longings of her various bewigged and bewitched male guests, ultimately turning her attentions to the inn’s latest arrival, the misogynistic Ulster Gentleman, who would rather endure “the latent strains of malaria” than the attentions of a woman. Har, har.

Wonderland Productions, a young company under the directorship of Alice Coghlan, has shown spirit in its staging of classical theatre, recently bringing a Leoncavallo opera to lunchtime audiences and also producing a site-specific production of Molière’s The Miser. In truth, its latest offering is a somewhat dusty farce, but the company has once again set itself a challenge in terms of form. Innovatively, the piece is performed as a theatrical cabaret, with the upstairs bar of the Port House doubling as an 18th-century Italian inn, where the drama, played out around the restaurant tables, is accompanied by wine and tapas.

This is a warm, well-intentioned piece of theatre, and, in this intimate setting, the five musically accomplished actors give relaxed and polished performances. Connolly Heron, as the Ulster Gentleman, with his longing for fine linen and his capitulating misogyny, is terrific, as are Mal Whyte, Neill Fleming and Damien O’Donnell as aspiring suitors to Mirandolina (the seductively able Claire Jenkins).

La Locandiera provides a convivial evening, and Wonderland is to be congratulated on pushing ahead with its singular vision.


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