Nanna’s Bolognese Camden Fringe
There’s something in the air during fringe season- a few months of the year when the arts seem to explode onto our streets, bursting forth with new writing, theatre and performance in a messy, delightedly excitable way, culminating in the legendary Edinburgh Festival in August. Camden Fringe is one of the paths leading to the massive celebration in Scotland- and over the years I’ve seen a bombardment of brand new, startling pieces of performance in their early stages; where, as an audience, we’re lucky enough to watch the intimate beginnings of creative, original new works. It’s cheap, it’s messy, but it can be fantastic- reawakening a love of theatre that seems to spiral from real passion and difficult truths, written eloquently and subtly, and hitting hard. Unfortunately, Chantelle Micallef Grimaud’s Nanna’s Bolognese is not one of these shows.
Written jarringly, with a tone that seems too childlike for adults yet too serious for children, Nanna’s Bolognese bumps awkwardly along the hour mark, attempting to rush us along with the speed of a comedy, but constantly tripping itself up in the process. The heart of the story is sweet- a relationship between a young student and her grandmother, but we’re never given enough time with them both to invest in either one, and the realms of fantasy and reality are so constantly blurred that the story neither lands as an imaginative comedy nor a heartfelt tale. We’re left with a disjointed, slightly bumbling piece that never quite catches on- despite the hard work of Anton Saliba, the show’s saving grace, who scoops us away from the awkwardness with witty one-liners and impressive comic timing. Sprinting around precarious props and a very makeshift set (a cardboard microscope- perhaps placed for comedy- sat wonkily through scenes looking quite sad), the cast scurry slightly manically around a stage that is far too small for so much movement, and we find ourselves praying the whole thing stays up until the end. I can’t help thinking if the show had spent less time choreographing montages of “genius invention” and more time on the heart of the tale, we may have ended up with a slightly less shambolic performance.
It’s expected to see shows at the Fringe that are not yet polished enough for the stage- indeed, that’s the point of it all- but in the case of Nanna’s Bolognese, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.