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Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

Tiny figures tell big stories

16 January 2021

With its magical mix of fairy tales, shadow puppets and a family love story, Tale of Tales captivates David Zampatti.

Tale of Tales, Bow and Dagger ·
State Theatre Centre, 15 January, 2021

The superb Tale of Tales, by local writer, puppeteer and actor Clare Testoni, was a highlight of the 2018 theatre season, and it’s a blessing that it has returned to open Fringe World 2021, courtesy of the Perth Theatre Trust’s State of Play season.

In some measure at least, the Trust’s season at the State Theatre Centre of WA (STCWA) compensates for the hiatus in the Blue Room’s award-winning Summer Nights program caused by the exigencies of Covid-19 restrictions.

Testoni’s work – including the Fringe World shows West of the Moon (2017) and The Beast and the Bride (2018) – is built on her interest in fairy tales, but Tale of Tales has greatly expanded her technical achievement and widened the context of her storytelling. She uses fairy tales collected by Giambattista Basile in 17th century Italy (they include the earliest known versions of Rapunzel and Cinderella) to bind the history of four generations of her family, through the rise of Fascism in Italy and the resistance to it, the flight of many Italians to Australia, and their fate here.

It’s a passionate statement against fear and prejudice, and especially the practice of internment that is often their consequence. The parallels to the same evils in our own times are clearly and powerfully made.

Storyteller Clare Testoni is pictured shining torchlight through paper cutouts to cast a tale in shadowso a whte screen behind her.
Clare Testoni’s family love story delivers a heartfelt message. Photo: David Cox Media

Tale of Tales is also the true love story of Testoni’s great-grandparents, Sante and Antoinetta, and their sad parting and estrangement. She pairs their story with Basile’s The Princess Who Couldn’t Laugh or Cry, The Crystal Tunnel, The Dragon and the Flea and others. This narrative technique gives Basile’s ancient stories new life and meaning – it’s a lesson in the purpose and power of fairy tales and a wonderful device for telling her own story.

Testoni directs Tale of Tales with actor Paul Grabovac, who is also on stage with her. As they shine torches on tiny cutout figures arranged on tables, silhouettes of people and places, villages, cities and internment camps are thrown on to the screen behind the stage.

The shadow images have a magical three-dimensionality and move with an almost cinematic quality. They are interspersed with family photos and archival material, some very shocking, of Mussolini’s Italy and internment camps in north Queensland and country Victoria.

If I have a reservation about this re-staging of the original production, it’s that the STCWA’s cavernous basement rehearsal room lacks the intimacy of the Blue Room Theatre, where it was first staged, and the lack of raked seating in the auditorium means the effect of Testoni and Grabovac’s intricate work is a little diminished.

Tale of Tales is an honest show, and a heartfelt one; as Basile says in The Sun, the Moon and Talia, “A story left untold is destined to repeat itself.” It’s a good thing, then, that Clare Testoni has told hers, and so well – and that we have another chance to see and hear it.

Tale of Tales runs until Tuesday 19 January at the State Theatre Centre.

Pictured top: In Clare Testoni’s expert hands, tiny cutout figures cast long shadows to play out stories from four generations of her Italian family. Photo: David Cox Media.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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