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Looking for Alibrandi

  • Theatre
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. Josie and her mother sit on the ground, her mother is draped on her lap
    Photograph: Jeff Busby
  2. Ivy sits on the floor, blood on her face and hands
    Photograph: Tamarah Scott

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The beloved novel by Melina Marchetta is sure to convert more fans with this stage adaption

The tectonic pull between grinding identities is something director Stephen Nicolazzo (Loaded) understands innately. He feigned a British accent as a kid growing up in Thomastown, Lalor and Reservoir, and tried to conceal the too-soon emergence of his chest hair in an attempt to blend in. It puts him in good stead to steward the first mainstage adaptation of Looking for Alibrandi. 

It follows the also-adored 2000 film that cast Pia Miranda as Josie, Elena Cotta as her nonna, and Greta Scacchi as her mum, caught in the middle of the generational divide, with Anthony LaPaglia as the estranged dad looking to be brought back in out of the cold. 

Family is everything, and so too in this Malthouse and Belvoir Theatre co-production. Written by Vidya Rajan, the vast swathe of this two-act show plays out within the Alibrandi household. Tomato Day is ever-present, with Kate Davis’ minimal set design, ably lit by Katie Sfetkidis, almost entirely consisting of banks of milk crates packed high with plastic tomatoes. They’re laid out on an ornately patterned carpet that would not look out of place in a Franco Cozzo showroom. 

Samoan-Italian Chanella Macri is brilliant in the central role of Josie, with her eye-rolling at Jennifer Vuletic’s gesticulating nonna hitting the Olympic standard, as is her ability to command the audience when breaking the fourth wall for a spot of handy narration. But it’s Lucia Mastrantone who steals the show in the dual role of Josie’s much put-upon mum Christina, and also Josie’s high school bestie Serah. 

The suspension of disbelief required here is a fun subversion of the generational divide. Mastrantone has heaps of fun playing the highly sexed and seemingly ditzy, yet not to be underestimated, richer Serah, who more easily blends into the posh school Josie can only attend thanks to a scholarship. 

Not that money is necessarily the answer, as Ashley Lyons’ Michael Andretti – Josie’s estranged dad – finds out when he waltzes back into their lives promising wads of it, and is roundly rejected. 

The play is at its strongest when navigating the family’s fraught relations. Not quite enough groundwork is laid by Rajan to make the most of a dramatic twist involving Josie’s high school crush, John Barton. Hannah Monson is both unconvincing and underused in this role, and also as Josie’s high school nemeses Ivy, with the racial bullying so integral to the original text muted here. John Marc Desengano gets a much better look-in as the profanity-spouting, soon-to-be actual boyfriend Jacob Coote, with him and Macri enjoying great comically-charged chemistry.  

It’s a little odd and a bit of a shame that some of the characterisation of the extended high school circle is lost in a show weighing in at around two hours, but it’s lucky that the family core is so strong. It’s a joy to watch Macri, Vuletic and Mastrantone in full flight, and this is where Nicolazzo’s footing is surest. 

I suspect the show will play even better in the more intimate surrounds of Belvoir Theatre when it shifts to Looking for Alibrandi’s home city of Sydney. But rest assured, Melburnians should not 'passata' up the opportunity to see this fun show that gets at the familial heart of the original story. 

Stephen A Russell
Written by
Stephen A Russell


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