Why Pirandello’s 1917 comedy about human nature still speaks to us today

PUBLISHED: 18:18 11 February 2020 | UPDATED: 22:44 11 February 2020

Concerned neighbours - Lucrezia Baldo as Rosa and Elizabeth Donnelly as Signora Sirelli.

Concerned neighbours - Lucrezia Baldo as Rosa and Elizabeth Donnelly as Signora Sirelli.


Only 10 per cent of people stopped in the street would have heard of Pirandello - even in Italy - but he is writing for the 90 per cent who have never heard of him

Ludovico NolfiLudovico Nolfi

If you were to stop someone in the street and ask them: "Do you know who Luigi Pirandello was?" I believe few people would answer correctly.

Even in Italy. Perhaps someone might say: "Was he a famous tenor?" or even, "An Italian chef?" or better yet, "Did he play for Italy?"

I think at most 10 per cent would know that Pirandello is one of the greatest playwrights of all time, not only in the Italian language, but universally.

And yet he is writing, above all, for the 90 per cent who have never heard of him.

Joned Sarwar as Lamberto. Picture: GIADA PROIETTOJoned Sarwar as Lamberto. Picture: GIADA PROIETTO

He had a great talent for exploring, with endless humanity and compassion, the innermost aspects of the human being.

He invites us to think about the thousands of contradictions that belong to us all and appear differently in each of us.

His body of work is an immense endeavour to investigate and try to understand people in our infinite complexity.

This is sometimes comic and sometimes tragic.

Giada Proietto as Signora PonzaGiada Proietto as Signora Ponza

He does this through clever and colourful writing, drenched in the biting irony typical of his native Sicily.

Pirandello among many things, above all, makes us aware that all of us, according to the situations in which we live, put on different masks.

And we do this at times knowingly and at others completely unaware.

For instance, in our workplace our colleagues see us in a certain way which is different to how our partner sees us and different still from how our family sees us and then again a friend, and so it goes on.

Elizabeth Donnelly as Signora Sirelli. Picture: GIADA PROIETTOElizabeth Donnelly as Signora Sirelli. Picture: GIADA PROIETTO

And in the world we live in today, it's truly ironic to observe through Pirandello's magnifying glass just how much this is happening with the advent of social media.

We have a Twitter account, some of us have Instagram, and then Facebook, and Linkedin, and so on.

We often we give each profile a different username, nothing other than a mask which changes for each platform we join.

And Pirandello, laughing about this to himself, tries to tell us that we not only accept all this, but in fact when we wear these masks they seem almost essential.

They seem vital in order to face the various situations and people we encounter in our lives, each unique and different from the next.

But then... where is our identity? Who are we really? Which one is the real us?

This is why I enjoy staging Pirandello today.

I find it fascinating to explore, along with young people who live fully immersed in their lives in 2020, the same subjects and questions that Pirandello was posing more than a century ago.

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The challenge is to bring these questions to today's audience, especially to the 90 per cent I mentioned earlier.

We invite them to think about the themes and try to do that with irony and with passion, with seriousness and with fun, with beauty and with humanity -- always keeping in mind the well known quote from Pirandello's novel, One, No-one and One Hundred Thousand: "We spot the flaws in others very easily, but we never see them in ourselves."

Director Ludovico Nolfi, usually based in Rome, is directing Pirandello's 1917 play, Right You Are (If You Think So) performed by Cambridge University's Italian Society - in Italian with surtitles - at St John's College Cambridge on February 28 and 29. Friday, 7pm, Saturday, 3pm and 7pm. Tickets: £8 from facebook.com/CUItSoc/

Translation by Elizabeth Donnelly.

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