Mattia Pascal, the Man Who Lived
Mattia Pascal dies, twice.
What would you do if you could go to Hell and back?
Adapted and directed by Maria Gaitanidi from Luigi Pirandello's novel Il fu Mattia Pascal
22-25 October 2014 @7.30pm
26 October 2014 @6pm
St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch
An original adaptation of Italian masterpiece The Late Mattia Pascal by Luigi Pirandello will take flesh and voice for the first time in the UK. It will be created for St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch, London’s first actors' church.
Raw Material will give life to Mattia Pascal through the combination of three scores: the performers, the space, the text. With only books and a bare nave for scenography, their acapela voices and raw physicality, Raw Material will interrogate themselves and each one of you: what if you had a second chance? What if you could choose your name, family, history? What if you could control Fortune?
Raw Material create through a unique acting process where the performer's self becomes matter for art.
Mattia Pascal/Adriano Meis: Mark Edel-Hunt
1st Player/Spaniard/Tito Lenzi: Valeria Rinaldi
2nd Player/Adriana/Romilda: Raymonda Pravertas
3rd Player/Silvia Caporale: Agne Nemanyte
Don Eligio/Paleari/Singer: Maria Gaitanidi
Review of the performance
Mattia Pascal: The Man Who Lived—A Multi-vocal Exploration of Pirandello’s Anti-novel
(St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, London, October 22-26, 2014)
University of Kent
Mattia Pascal: The Man Who Lived, a devised performance or “multi-vocal composition,” by Maria Gaitanidi and the Raw Material Ensemble, draws its subject matter from Pirandello’s novel, Il fu Mattia Pascal. The production is a far cry from Liolà, Pirandello’s own theatrical adaptation of the novel. Gone is the light-hearted anarchy of Liolà’s non-traditional lifestyle; the focus here is on the existential anguish that comes with being (or not being) Mattia Pascal. In the way that Pirandello’s Il fu Mattia Pascal functions as an anti-novel, Mattia Pascal: The Man Who Lived performs as an anti-drama. While Liolà is based entirely upon events that occur in chapter four of Il fu Mattia Pascal (which are briefly summarized in narrative form at the beginning of Mattia Pascal: The Man Who Lived), this incarnation of the story seeks not to represent a part or even a whole of the novel, but to embody the complex web of Pascal’s life/lives. The production situates itself within the framework of the post-dramatic, presenting a multi-faceted dialogic relationship between past and present, reality and representation, self and perceived-self. It presents multiple and easily displaced identities that function within a shifting narrative in time and space, and reflects a palimpsestuous intertextuality.
The Raw Material ensemble (composed of Maria Gaitanidi, Mark Edel-Hunt, Valeria Rinaldi, Agne Nemanyte, and Raymonda Pravertas) claims to make work using solely raw materials:
The occupation of found and/or non-theatrical spaces, the simple being and organic presence of the performers, the literary analysis of texts without imposing an exterior vision, the use of what is present in the moment of performing and which might have not been premeditated (objects, people, situations, etc). (Raw Material Profile)
The ensemble do so in this case by situating the action of the production within the confines of St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch, London. The location becomes a major player in the action in its own right: the church both dictates the limitations
placed on the performers as well as provides creative material
with which to work. The performers draw chalk patterns on
the stone floors, hurl apples along the aisles, turn out all of the
lights, threaten to damage the church, and utilize the acoustics to
manipulate the sounds of their voices. The outside sounds of busy
Shoreditch High Street permeate the peaceful interior, with street
sounds of engines revving, cars honking, and people shouting.
It is cold in the church, and the performers acknowledge this,
at the same time acknowledging the presence of the audience.
A performer states: “You look cold Alessandro. Where are you
from? Yes, it is much colder here than in Sicily.” The location itself
is also in dialogue with the location of the narrator/protagonist
in Pirandello’s novel: Mattia Pascal writes as the librarian of a
crumbling library in a deconsecrated church.
In the performance, Mattia Pascal exists both in the time in
which Pirandello wrote him as well as in the now. He encounters
Sicilian peasants, self-aware contemporary women, and even
Vladimir Putin. He exists in a time in which he could disappear
to a different town after a body was found and presumed to be
his, yet he also exists in a globalized world in which there are
easy encounters with people from different nations. Mattia Pascal
exists as Mattia Pascal, Italian peasant, Hadrian/Adriano Meis,
and as actor Mark Edel-Hunt, who appears occasionally through
the holes in the fabric of the character(s). Another company
member asks him: “You’re not a real Londoner, are you?” To
which he responds: “Eight years. I have been in London for eight
years.” Raw Material explains that this element of the performer
peeking out from behind the character is a result of “a unique
acting process where the performer’s self becomes matter for art.”
The company supports this performative choice by identifying
“the performer as creator, as the canal (intermediary) between
aesthetic and philosophical ideas and the world we live in, at the
centre of our work.” (Program Notes)
Mattia Pascal takes a multi-vocal approach to gender as
well: the women in Mattia Pascal’s life are both objectified and
objectifiers. We are told that Mattia Pascal has impregnated two
Krysta Dennis 137
different women, and we see him mistreat a number of them,
including one female character who finds herself humiliated with
her eyes closed and an apple core in her mouth. As Mattia Pascal
walks away from her, he responds to his own earlier question to
her, “Are you an idiot?” by saying: “You sure look like an idiot.”
Mattia Pascal does not, however, objectify women as a rule—his
identity is far too bifurcated for that. He struggles somewhat with
the lines between representation and reality, coming into a church
and finding a woman standing at the altar intoning a prayer, he
assumes her to be a lady priest. She reacts with some confusion,
stating that she is only there saying a prayer out to the church;
this does not mean that she is a priest. Later, her gender becomes
irrelevant as she dons a coat and becomes Vladimir Putin. The
women also objectify Mattia Pascal, putting him up for auction.
“Who wants a bad man?” the auctioneer asks, “he has no job,
he has gotten two different women pregnant, his mother was a
saint, and he will treat you badly.” With a healthy dose of irony,
the women react with delight, the amount of lira they are willing
to pay for Mattia Pascal mounting and mounting, each woman
hoping to be the one to be mistreated by him. This implies an
interesting ownership over both the man and the destiny that
awaits the woman attached to him.
Raw Material’s adaptation of Mattia Pascal does make one
significant connection to Pirandello’s Liolà, and this is a linguistic
one. Pirandello originally wrote Liolà in the Sicilian dialect of the
region in which the action takes place, and Mattia Pascal also makes
a point of being true to dialect(s). The ensemble, an international
group, including Italian, Russian, Lithuanian, and British company
members, perform in their own “authentic” dialects. Performers
speak their text as if it were spontaneous, sometimes searching
or appearing to search for a translation for an Italian word into
English, mispronouncing a word (rebel, for example, used as a
noun but pronounced as a verb), and making the minor errors of
grammar and syntax that constitute the performers’ own voices.
The text does not feel as if it has been learned; it feels as if it is
being spontaneously generated in the space due to this adherence
to personal speech patterns. Mattia Pascal, with his trained actor’s
English accent, is the one who seems as if he has planned his
words, with the others taking part in spontaneous situations
that appear around him. This approach is in stark contrast to the
138 Mattia Pascal, St. Leonard’s Church, London
one taken with Liolà at the National Theatre in November 2013,
reviewed by Jane House in volume XXVI of PSA (2013, 115-20). In
that performance, the Sicilian peasants (for their activities, names,
and places did not change) all spoke with Irish accents.1 This
imposition of one nation’s peasantry upon another seemed heavyhanded
and baffling, due to the strict naturalism to which the rest
of the production adhered. But in the world of Mattia Pascal: The
Man Who Lived, a world of multiple and competing narratives, it
seems only natural for the voices in dialogue to be the performers
own, international voices, more capable of asking, in a globalized
context, what is/are the identity/ies of Mattia Pascal.
Mattia Pascal: The Man Who Lived is perspicacious,
complex, and finely tuned, but, as can sometimes be the case with
palimpsestuous post-dramatic work, it is somewhat inaccessible.
It is self-reflexively aware of this inaccessibility, but it remains
insular, sometimes linguistically, and often topically. For those
audience members familiar with Pirandello’s novel Il fu Mattia
Pascal and the play Liolà, there are more channels of accessibility
and more available tools for meaning-making; however there is
a risk that those who are unfamiliar with Mattia Pascal’s journey
might become lost along the way. We are told at the beginning
that nothing is certain, nothing but the fact that the man we see
before us is Mattia Pascal, though even that may not be certain.
This uncertainty is the foundation upon which Mattia Pascal: The
Man Who Lived is built. Adding yet another voice and developing
a more significant dialogue with Pirandello’s Liolà might have
imbued the production with the humour Liolà so effortlessly
embodies and delivered the production to a more accessible plane
for audience members. However, the deconstructive framework,
within which Mattia Pascal: The Man Who Lived functions, is
certainly a logical one with which to approach the anti-novel.
By working within this framework, Raw Material has made an
appropriate and effective choice for the production.