Theatre in English

Although Rome has an abundance of English theatre, there is an anomaly between the capital’s massive English-speaking community and the comparatively small number of people who could be described as theatre-goers. Given the dedication and financial difficulties involved in producing theatre, there is a spirit of support and camaraderie among the various companies – all of which try to programme their shows not to clash.

Between them they offer a wide range of theatre, from Shakespearian to fringe, and some of the better-known actors tread multiple boards. Italians might remember her for rapping footballer Francesco Totti on the knuckles in the Vodafone advert, but to the capital’s expat theatre-lovers Gaby Ford is the force behind the English Theatre of Rome. Formerly known as Off Night Repertory, the company was founded by Ford in 1996 and is based at Teatro Arciliuto near Piazza Navona.

Each season it covers five categories: a classic, a world premiere, a work by a woman author, an Italian premiere and bilingual events. In addition to providing a regular stream of diverse productions, this theatre is recognised for taking risks and embracing the avant-garde. A free-spirited and straight-talking New Yorker, Ford has been acting in Italy since 1985, “doing mostly cameo character roles in films and television, typecast usually as a maleducataor malvestitaforeigner – whether Brit, Yank, Irish or German, I’m the girl who doesn’t get the boy.” With Loopy Ladies on 30 and 31 May, Ford’s theatre celebrates its 90th production and shows no signs of slowing down. It is participating in this year’s NY Fringe Festival and in October it presents a world premiere adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in collaboration with Rome’s John Cabot University.

In 1981 Sandra Provost formed The Rome Savoyards with a nod to London’s Savoy Theatre, home to Gilbert and Sullivan, with whom her company made its name. In recent years it has diversified into Shakespearian comedies, light comedies by Alan Bennett and Neil Simon, Restoration comedy as well as high drama. Its shows take place at Teatro S. Genesio in Prati, and from 12 to 17 June it stages its 48th production, Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw. Provost, who has been acting and directing in Rome since 1974, says: “We’re an amateur group, yes, but we have high standards and aim for good quality.” The Rome Savoyards are planning an autumn production of The Pillowmanby Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.

Douglas Dean established Eternal Lines in 2009 after being approached by an actor friend, Al Mariotti, with the idea of staging a performance of Patrick Marber’s Closer. Three years on, and following its recent well-received Twelfth Nightin Trastevere’s Teatro Belli, the non-profit theatre company has six shows under its belt. A familiar face on Rome’s theatre circuit, Dean is keen to tackle another Shakespearian play and currently is torn between The Winter’s Tale, The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth. When asked about the English-speaking acting scene in Rome, Dean says “I’m completely against the idea of English theatre just being a cliquey group of Brits, Irish and Americans, performing for hand-picked audiences of their fellow Brits, Irish and Americans. It’s vital that we recognise where we are and make the effort to include non-native speakers and the skills and experiences they can bring with them to the stage.”

Comprising professional English-speaking directors and actors, the Independent English Theatre was founded in 2010 by artistic director, Sandra Paternostro. Last year it staged Harold Pinter’s Betrayal in a collaborative venture with a British theatre company, and in March it presented David Hare’s Skylight, which it is considering taking to Milan and other cities. It recently produced GLBT The Show, a staged reading using contemporary references to raise awareness of gay rights.

The IET is currently working with an Italian theatre company on a project for this summer at the Spoleto Theatre festival, which will premiere two short plays, one by Italian Marco Calvani and the other by American Neil LaBute. It is also working towards staging Shakespeare in English at Rome’s Globe Theatre in Villa Borghese.

The Miracle Players are known for their open-air summer productions in the Roman Forum and their comic approach to antiquity. The troupe was established in 1999 by Italian-Australian actor Eric Bassanesi to provide Rome’s English-speaking tourists and residents with accessible and humorous productions of classical texts. This year the Miracle Players perform Cleopatra– written and directed by founding member Denise McNee – in front of the Mamertine prison every Friday at 19.30 from 22 June to 27 July.

Arts in English was set up in 2005 by Ailleen C. Moir to showcase international dance, theatre and musical productions, often with a young cast. Moir has been producing and directing school plays in Rome for over 20 years and one of the factors in establishing Arts in English was the large number of graduating students who wished to continue in the English-language performing arts. In the bi-centenary of Charles Dickens’ birth, the company held a series of Oliver Twist-themed workshops in the spring and will be casting for Oliver, the Showat the British School in Ostia on 9 and 10 June. Amateurs and professionals can brush up their stage skills with Terriane Falcone’s Acting in Englishwhich offers performance classes for both native and non-native speakers, specialising in improvisational approaches.

It recently presented a workshop for advanced actors with celebrated American improv actor Michael Gellman of Second City Chicago. Finally, fresh from its coverage in Corriere della Sera, Rome’s Comedy Club held its last show of the season on 25 May. Formed in 2009 by Stephanie Tyrell and Marsha De Salvatore, this monthly stand-up comedy night features typically six-eight performers and has begun to attract an Italian audience. With an ever-increasing supply of theatre, Rome’s English speakers are spoilt for choice. As Gaby Ford says: “The more theatres the merrier.”

Andy Devane