Dario Fo: crossing borders

by Beatrice Blake

Dario Fo (1926-2016) absorbed a wide range of arts into the field of theatre. Trained as a painter and architect, he entered the world of theatre and radio broadcasting in 1951. He wrote, acted, directed, designed, choreographed, composed music and songs, and produced political theatre throughout his career, except for a two-year spell in Cinecittà where he starred in Carlo Lizzani’s film Lo svitato (1956) and was a scriptwriter for a number of film directors. Later in his career, painting became prominent in his work. His eclectic skills therefore, drew from the world of design, painting and music to build stage sets and choreography, music and songs for his theatre.

In La signora è da buttare (1967) Fo used circus setting and techniques to construct theatrical action able to give metaphorical meaning to the play. Drawing on a stylistic form used by Mayakowsky and Mayerhold, Fo employed summersaults, slaps, magic tricks, acrobatics – even two professional clowns, the Columbaioni – animation of objects, and imaginary circus animals, to create symbolic, metaphoric images for his political satire. In Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupazzi piccoli e medi (1968) he borrowed from puppetry to construct allegories of Fascism using The Big Puppet, the King’s stupid puppet and others to signify categories of power, along with a huge dragon to represent people. In Tutti uniti! Tutti insieme! Ma scusa, quello non è il padrone? (1971) Fo turned to music. Instead of words, his characters communicated only with sounds made from musical instruments. Circus and puppetry and the medium of music enabled Fo to widen his means of communication with the public. He increased the theatricality of the medium adding visual representations, gestures and actions, and expanded its vocabulary giving musical sounds the status of words. This highly allegorical theatre allowed political satire and hindered censorship.

In Il funerale del padrone (1969) Fo used cinematic techniques, probably inspired by Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘intelligent montage’ (Strike, 1924) by means of which two unrelated images, the slaughter of a bull and the workers charged by the police, when juxtaposed construct the meaning (workers killed by police), which is unrelated to the images when shown separately. Similarly, Fo set out to slaughter a lamb on stage against the background of a worker being crucified. The meaning conveyed was of a worker murdered like a lamb, which contained a further reference to Christ as the Lamb murdered for humanity. In his Manuale dell’attore (1987) Fo acknowledged his use of film techniques in describing his performance of Storia della tigre. He refers to a ‘spettatore con la cinepresa in testa’, a spectator who observes through the lens of a camera, receiving and reading  images according to the different cinematic angles employed by the actor. Eisenstein’s technique enabled Fo to draw correlations between images, creating a virtual meaning in the mind of the audience, that was not evident from the single image and, at the same time, avoiding the constraint of the censor.

Beatrice Tavecchio Blake, Dario Fo: Teatro di attivazione e comunicazione 1950-1973, Milano, Mimesis, 2016. ISBN 978-88-5753-804-4



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