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Francis The Holy Jester

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
Four stars

“Please,” says Italian actor Mario Pirovano after a lengthy introduction to his interpretation of his long-time collaborator Dario Fo's solo study of Saint Francis of Assisi. “Relax. It's only theatre.” Given what happens over the four 'episodes' that follow, such a pre-cursor to the main event is self-deprecation as arform.

The first two pieces find Francis dealing with a possibly symbolic wolf before being forced to make a speech to war-torn Bologna. So powerful is his stand-up satire, it seems, that peace breaks out three days later. Both are sublime, but it is the second half's extended riff on Francis' attempts to tell the gospel in a more down-to-earth lingo than Latin where Pirovano really flies, before things finish up with the saint's final transcendent hours.

Inbetween playing assorted popes, cardinals and other animals, Pirovano presents Francis, not as the beatific Dr Doolittle figure he has been mythologised as, but more akin to Robin Hood, a man on a mission blessed with a common touch who wanders the world with his band of brothers spreading the word. All this is as far removed from the figure who the late Margaret Thatcher named her favourite saint as can be.

Penned by Fo in 1997, the play was brought to life by Pirovano as part of Dancing With Colours, Whipping With Words, a month-long celebration of Fo's work and its influence, including the first ever UK exhibition of Fo's paintings. There was a time when Fo's work was a regular fixture of Scotland's theatre calendar. In the current political climate which seems beyond parody, on this showing, we need his and Pirovano's sense of the ridiculous more than ever.

The Herald, October 10th 2016

ends

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