Pirandello isn’t known for chirpy tales of lovable rogues, but that’s what ‘Liolà’ is: a story of love and betrayal – mostly betrayal – in nineteenth-century Sicily that’s light as marzipan but hardly sweet. In a village almost devoid of men, the women shell almonds for local landlord Simone and gossip, mostly about the footloose and fecund local charmer, Liolà, and the failure of old Simone to father a child.
Fortunately, Liolà is fruitful enough to repopulate an island. When Tuzza falls pregnant with his child, she and her mother have the fine idea of enticing Simone into acknowledging the child: he’ll get an heir, they’ll get an inheritance.
Richard Eyre has responded to an Italian play about the allure of appearances with an Irish cast, so keeping the Catholicism while playing cleverly with English prejudices. Italian Liolà would be a gigolo declaring love to get his way; Irish Liolà is a consummate talker whose words and songs shield a shattered heart. It’s simplistic but effective; the mud wall and celluloid sky of Anthony Ward’s set, however, is simply basic.
Rory Keenan’s delightful Liolà, spins on a heel as he balances his opportunities against the honour usually found among thieves, and Aisling O’Sullivan adds heat as Tuzza’s shrieking mother. No amount of shouting or shagging can distract from the arid facts, though. Pregnant or barren, these women are invariably the losers, and what the men get isn’t worth winning. Only children offer any promise – although even that’s debatable when they all share a father.
By Nina Caplan