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ARTS - Mistero Buffo

Author: Darryn King
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo, written in 1969, is a one-man play that is somewhere between a lecture on religion and a clown act. It’s been adapted for two performers and will be playing at the Belvoir at the end of this month. Darryn King spoke to director Bill Blaikie.

Theological analysis and carnival buffoonery may seem a curious combination at first, but it’s a longstanding tradition of theatre that the Fool is the character that gets away with speaking the Truth… And there’s something distinctive about Fo’s Fool, as Blaikie points out.

“The way that Fo looks at the Fool, he’s not just the Voice of Reason, he’s the Voice of Reason of the Common Man, the Common Person, you know- So we’re actually hearing the pragmatic, practical, down-to-Earth, what-the-world-is-about,” he says. “And that’s where the fun comes because you’ve got the juxtaposition between that very pragmatic view of the world, and the views of the world of those who are manipulating people with gobbledegook.”

Mistero Buffo was certainly Fo’s most controversial work, and immensely popular in Fo’s home country of Italy, where a televised version of a production was slammed by the Vatican as “the most blasphemous show in the history of television” (it’s an honour that is proclaimed proudly in this play’s promotional material but, as Blaikie admits, “There might be a few other runners-up for that now”).

So what is Fo’s argument- “Fo’s not saying that Christ didn’t exist or didn’t have things to say – it’s to do with the way the message got manipulated,” Blaikie says. “We’re turned into the pawns of those who are more powerful than us. The play is critical of organised religion in the way that it manipulates people to do things in a way that’s probably against their best interests.”

Fo finds all the satirical ammunition he needs in the medieval Christian parables, which he retells from an all-too-human perspective, sharing the comic terrain and undergraduate irreverence of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Remember the ex-leper, who was minding his own business when Jesus came along and cured him against his will- Fo’s play features a cripple and blind man, similarly bitter that Jesus’ divine intervention means that they now have to go out and get jobs. Only Fo’s characters appeared 10 years earlier than the Pythons’.

Mark Twain once said, rather bleakly, “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful.” Fo’s perspective is somewhat more optimistic.

“Oh, it’s all about fun,” Blaikie says, “Fo talks about humour and laughter as being the tool that dismantles the things that oppress us, that dismantles the structures of power. If we can laugh about it, we can talk about it.” Blaikie then sums it all up rather nicely: “Let’s have fun, life goes on, we’ve gotta engage it, not hide from it.”

WHAT: Mistero Buffo
WHEN: Thursday 27 March – Sunday 13 April