Papersmokers, Austria/Italy/UK, 60mins
Voila! Europe Festival, London | November 10-11, 2020
Nick Awde | THE X REPORT
“I’m trying to become one of you – well, some of you…” And so begins Cecilia Gragnani’s gently ironic recounting of life as an Italian abroad – the ‘abroad’ in this case being the UK, where encounters with its natives and customs reveal how an expat’s existence is filled with little complexities that often grow more complex.
Via an engaging litany of Gregg’s sausage rolls, working as a Pret cleaner, awkward dates with Englishmen, pub quizzes, warm-cold neighbours and that talk with mother about bringing a British boyfriend back to Italy for Christmas, Gragnani reels though a journey of vignettes that celebrate the joy and pain of integration, only to be regularly jolted back into the reality of today when she quotes pointless facts from a book she’s holding.
Book? Well that would be Life in the United Kingdom, ‘the only official study guide’ to gaining UK citizenship, priced at a very reasonable £7.99, and which, now that Brexit is upon us, is abruptly essential to any expat wanting to protect themselves from the future guesswork of how to continue livings safely in the shambles of post-Brexit UK.
And ‘pointless’ because most of the book’s facts deemed essential to British heritage would be judged utter trivia by the majority of homegrown Brits or, worse, simply met with a blank look.
Under the humour and whimsy, Diary of an Expat: Reloaded is a dissection of identity vs assimilation, probing how to stay true to your roots while committing to new roots in another country, culture and language – something recognised by beleaguered expats the world over and, in the UK at least where Brexit has sharpened the focus, many of their host fellow citizens too as ‘expat’ transitions to ‘migrant’.
Bubbly and disarming, Gragnani grabs your attention and runs with the intimacy of beaming direct into her audience’s living-rooms, giving a good idea of how she does the in-venue solo show. Snatches of Italian dot the dialogue effectively and it would be good to hear more.
Directed by Katharina Reinthaller, the energy never dips but the audio and visual design additions – green screen for arty impressions of London, face effects, cameo characters – miss a trick by not following a unifying concept and style and they frequently clash.
That’s all linked to the ‘Reloaded’ tag of the title – this is a Zoom adaptation of a show that has already done a circuit of Italy and the UK, and, if not design, then movement, delivery and mood stand up well to the transition.
The script less so, however. Perhaps the small screen amplifies things that could be tighter unnoticed before a physically present audience, and while the will-she-won’t-she-stay tension works from the outset, the cultural insights and narrative core are disjointed and only click in the final third.
It is fitting that this piece by Paper Smokers (Fumatori di Carta), which starts as a monologue and then turns into a dialogue, is topped by a post-show Q&A crammed with the different nationalities and international locations of a Zoom audience eager to delve into the nitty-gritty of Brexit and swap tales of the expat experience.
A perk for those who stayed on: the revelation that the producers are offering free sausage roll badges.