(The Teenage Theatre Critic) – My word this was something special. Dante’s Divine Comedy seems all the rage right now but Roberto Benigni’s “Tutto Dante” is about as far from Romeo Castellucci’s abysmal “Inferno” as it’s possible to conceive. From the off it was clear that the sheer energy and bravado of Benigni was going to be hard to resist. Seldom have I heard a man enthuse more about art and life than Benigni. Most in Britain would be embarrassed to express such love for the arts but he does it with such wild abandon that I couldn’t help but feel the same.
The opening half hour or so amounts to the most high-brow stand-up you’re ever going to come across. His English isn’t quite perfect (although it’s very impressive and he did the entire show effectively without notes) but his Tigger like energy and endless passion for everything he talked about made the slightest joke hysterical. He merely had to mention Silvio Berlusconi to have the entire audience crying with laughter. The tone shifts slowly into the more serious Dante content but the tone was never heavy with a constant stream of stories that never got dull.
He was most exposed when he got to the nitty gritty of the text and often shifted into Italian, although he tried hard not too and considering the huge proportion of the audience who spoke the language it didn’t much matter either way, but from a non-speaker it became a little confusing. His real love for the subject was entirely evident however no matter what he was saying or in what language. When he finally read the passage (Canto V of Inferno) it was like hearing a great Shakespearean actor declaiming for all his worth. I could only cursorily understand, although single words were enough to jog my memory of the hour long lesson that had preceeded. Lesson is really the wrong word; if all my lessons had been this compelling I’d be a much smarter guy than I am.
Benigni is a great entertainer but he’s also a fabulous educator, producing pearl after pearl of fascinating insight whether directly linked to Dante or not. The remarkably easy mix of comedy with textual analysis is shockingly impressive; I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything quite like this before. I left the theatre feeling that not only had I enjoyed myself thoroughly but that I’d learnt something worthwhile and even more curiously felt better about the world we live in. “TuttoDante” is a majestic, life affirming evening, a journey I’d take over and over again if I had the chance. I couldn’t have higher praise for Roberto Benigni, a true genius.
Posted by The Teenage Theatre Critic at 07:00, 6 april 2009