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Italian Theatre

Italian theatre stems from very ancient roots, originating as far back as in ancient Latin and Greek times. From time immemorial travelling players moved from one town to the next and still today Italian theatre is based on the idea of tours with no fixed theatre company in any one town.

Italy’s last great writer of drama was Goldoni, with the progression from the masks of the “Commedia dell’Arte” to the personified character. Later in the second half of the XIXth cent., bourgois drama became more and more prominent. Themes were mainly the family, adultery (the husband-wife-lover triangle was a recurring theme), social relations and failure of communications. But it was Pirandello (1867-1936) who marked a very great breakthrough for Italian theatre by introducing to the absurd roles imposed by bourgeois society. This writer removed the mask behind which every one of us defends his own convictions to conceal his real self, and unveiled the naked truth, a concept reflected in the general title of his entire theatrical production, Maschere Nude (Naked Masks). Pirandello also introduced a technical innovation, the “theatre within the theatre”, which revolutionised traditional forms of drama.

After 1861 most citizens of Unified Italy still spoke in dialect and very few people were versed in proper Italian; this led to the rise of dialect theatre across the country. But dialect theatre flourished above all in Naples thanks to the De Filippo brothers. In scripts written by Eduardo (1900-1984), poor and lower middle class characters act out everyday situations filled with melancholy. This theatre’s success is bound up with the expertise of this writer-actor in giving voice to the lower middle class aspirations of his audiences who were emancipated, amid contradictions, by way of characters often on the edge of society, who embarked on improbable feats of social climbing. Eduardo’s theatre echoes the real-life experiences of his audiences sitting in the stalls, to whom he conveys unreserved solidarity.

Another significant name in the history of Italian theatre is Giorgio Strehler who with Luchino Visconti was founder of modern stage direction in Italy.

In the Fifties other interesting theatre directors made their mark such as Luigi Squarzina, Mario Missiroli, Giancarlo Cobelli and Aldo Trionfo; from the Seventies and Eighties important names include Luca Ronconi and Massimo Castri.

Today the Neapolitan tradition is still very much alive thanks to Eduardo’s son, Luca De Filippo, while Dario Fo, winner of the Nobel prize for literature, is still a key figure in Italian theatre.




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