It charts the many scandals of three-time Italian prime minister, media tycoon and sex pest Silvio Berluscini, in part through three women who had professional and/or sexual relations with him: the Italian magistrate Ilda Boccassini (Sally Ann Triplett) who vows to take him down, his former lover-turned-embittered TV presenter Fama (Jenny Fitzpatrick), and his mournful ex-wife Veronica (Emma Hatton). The trio state their stances in a joint opening number, then spend the next two hours reiterating them in sorrowful ballads and uptempo vengeful numbers wedged between too many pop-rock songs from a gloating, crowd-surfing, Putin-praising Berlusconi.
The cast of Berlusconi A New Musical. Credit: Nick Rutter
The story flashes back and forth between key moments in Berlusconi's life, from his childhood as a mummy’s boy in 1940s Italy through to his heavily publicised tax fraud trial in 2012, with his obsession to write an opera about himself a recurring motif. We’re taken through his career pre-politics, from his humble beginnings singing on cruise ships to becoming a property developer, shaping Italy’s media landscape and buying up AC Milan football club in a bid to win over the nation’s men. Berlusconi’s ‘bunga bunga’ parties, where young women were encouraged to strip for his attention, are also recalled, albeit crassly by choreographer Rebecca Howell, who has the women grope themselves while thrusting robotically.
Lucy Osborne’s set is also a mystery. The relatively small stage has been covered in an awkward marble structure, which works against the cast attempting to navigate its steps and surfaces. Noisy hatches see props passed on and off the stage, and director James Grieve has an irritating trick of using these hatches to send bodiless arms waving at the air – with daggers, or drinks, or just for the hell of it.
It’s not all bad. The sole star attached to this review is shared betweena hard-working cast led by an energetic, appropriately greasy Sebastien Torkia in the role of Berlusconi, and some inspired video design by Stanley Orwin-Fraser for Duncan McLean Projection. The latter sees live, on-stage interviews projected onto the back wall of the stage and the names of incoming characters lit up helpfully at their feet so we know who’s who.
Emma Hatton, Jenny Fitzpatrick, Sebastien Torkia and Sally Ann Triplett in Berlusconi A New Musical. Credit: Nick Rutter
The principal problem is Simmonds and Vaughan’s book. There’s no time given to scene setting in this entirely sung-through musical and as the characters are so thinly sketched, it’s impossible to pity them, root for them or feel anything else, really. It’s a shame, when there’s such a meaty story to tell. Worse, it seems to revel in its vulgarity – be that the school boy humour of Berlusconi getting an erection over a topless, oiled up Putin (Gavin Wilkinson), or the ghost of his mama (Susan Fay) appearing like an angel in church, offering advice and a scolding from beyond the grave.
A potentially poignant anti-corruption message about being careful who you vote for comes too late in the day to save the show. This is the kind of musical that gives the genre a bad rap.
|What||Berlusconi, Southwark Playhouse Elephant review|
|Where||Southwark Playhouse Elephant , 1 Dante Place , London , SE11 4RX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Elephant & Castle (underground)|
25 Mar 23 – 29 Apr 23, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|