A bare, white stage, clinically in its simplicity, is the arena for Toni Sevillo’s production of Inner Voices. The play tells the story of Alberto Saporito (Toni Servillo) who realises that the family next door, the Cimmarutas, have killed his best friend Aniello. The authorities are summoned, and Alberto is called upon to provide the evidence for the murder. It is at this point he realises that the murder took place in a dream he had, so vivid he mistook it for reality. Unfortunately, Alberto could now potentially be arrested himself for false testimony. Moreover, when Aniello is not located (alive or dead) the Cimmarusta family, convinced that one of their party has committed the murder, begin a process of accusation and investigation of their own. In a final twist, it is revealed to Alberto that the Cimmarusta family are plotting his murder to prevent him handing over his evidence… evidence he dreamt, and does not possess!
Beginning and ending with a motif of a sleeping figure, the play is encapsulated in an illusory, surrealist dream of its own. In a Peter Brook-esque staging, which permits the acting space to absorb and adapt to the characters, rather than smother them in reality and fussy effects, the reliance on the traditional acting school of Commedia dell’arte (a form begun in 16th Century Italy) is brought to the fore, but with intriguing modern twists, as stock characters develop, coming out from behind their historical masks. Strong performances are given by all the cast, but in particular the double act between Toni Servillo and his real-life brother Peppe Servillo is humorous, touching and engaging. The Cimmaruta family, played by Betti Pedrazzi, Gigio Morra, Lucia Mandarini, Marianna Robustelli and Vincenzo Nemolato, provides a range of characters and attitudes, flitting from anger, scorn and frustrating, to slapstick, sarcasm and jubilation with complete ease. The surrealist, unstable stacks of chairs, as a backdrop to the second half of the play, hints at the haphazard nature of the brother’s business, as they hire out furniture to locals for religious festivals. However, the set does so much more, visually underpinning the play’s commentary on a fractured, precarious world in which the slightest motion will rock the support system which we are lead to believe surround us.
The sustained comedy of the piece, littered with laugh-out-loud moments, is balanced against poignant instances of pathos and tragedy. My one criticism of the play would be that the final climax of the play, as Aniello makes his return, revealing he had been detained at his aunt’s house by illness, was somewhat anticlimactic, and not as comically exploited as it could have been. However, it is important to understand that this is a tragicomedy, and in some ways the farce of the bustling, complex narrative is intended only to superficially cover an existential play about a country recovering from a war, in which the community slowly come to realise that their voices are no longer being heard. As Alberto reflects on his uncle’s wisdom – he gave up speech and communicates in the play only through letting off fireworks at intermittent intervals- the very problem of the deafness of society is exposed. Is there any point in talking, if no one will listen? Doing only a very short run at the Barbican Theatre, it is worth trying to grab a ticket- if you can get one!