La Cucina dell’Arte, Perth Festival

Circus Ronaldo, Russell Square, Northbridge, Perth, February 10

SO there we all were, crammed tightly together in a small tent, perched on narrow, bum-numbing benches, laughing as if there were no tomorrow. It was instantaneous, delirious transport, the kind that sweeps away every thought except one: I’m here and I’m happy;  there is no other moment but now.

The smalll top ... La Cucina dell'Arte's tent

The smalll top … La Cucina dell’Arte’s tent

La Cucina dell’Arte is theatre of delicious, involuntary reaction. There are no mental gymnastics to go through, no sense that you’re missing something everyone else gets, nothing to bone up on or feel superior about. There’s no humiliation and nothing that offends. Just the pure, sweet, inclusive balm of laughter.

Such theatre is simultaneously simplicity itself and highly considered and sophisticated. In this show, two blokes with a few props and a deep understanding of classical comedy manoeuvre their way towards the preparation of pizza for a couple enlisted from the audience. Naturally, what can go wrong will go wrong.

Despite their names and the name of their production, Danny and David Ronaldo are not of Italian stock – their father, part of a long-standing Flemish circus dynasty, came up with the Ronaldo name – but they are steeped in the popular performance style known as commedia dell’arte. It was born in 16th century Italy and has been influential ever since. Anyone who has seen the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors can attest to its imperishable joys, and indeed there’s some connection between La Cucina dell’Arte and the British hit that will soon tour Australia, as both have been influenced by the great 18th century Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni.

La Cucina dell’Arte is on a much more intimate scale than One Man and at just 70 minutes is wonderfully suitable for children. The show starts gently as Danny Ronaldo attempts to illuminate the tent and ends in near anarchy as he tries to keep things from spinning out of control – in this case literally, as plates are whirled around on an ever-increasing number of flexible poles. David Ronaldo is the genial but firm master, ostensibly running a restaurant but there to exert control over his wayward servant and on us.

There are tricks involving sleight of hand, juggling, balance and co-ordination, although very likely never seen quite this way. Danny Ronaldo’s pizza dough handling is a thing of exceptional skill, grace and beauty; as it gets ever more elaborate it is also howlingly funny. You can’t say fairer than that.

Ends February 24.

This review first appeared in The Australian on February 13

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