The hardest thing a performer can ask of a small crowd is audience participation. The smaller the audience, the harder it gets. So I was astounded to see the first thing our host Gavino di Vino do was go straight for gold, and get every member on their feet dancing. His energy was infectious and in seconds he had united his guests. We were together, and we were in safe hands.
Di Vino’s performance as Auntie, an African immigrant in the heart of Hackney, is impressive. His embodiment of the character is unshakable and honest, every word and gesture filled with humour and reality. Auntie tells us how she came to the UK, met a less than respectable Scouser (with an immaculate accent to boot) and winds up pregnant and married. Vibrant comedy is balanced with moments of genuine hardship, including a well-written story of meeting her new husbands family. This exemplifies the blind ignorance immigrants have always been met with – a topic close to everyone’s heart in the current political climate. The only flaw in this character is clarity of speech. Whilst the accent is accurate and unwavering, it can be a little too strong for the audience and some plot points were lost.
We then meet Auntie’s son Mtoto, a gay hipster trying to find his place in a clash of cultures. His story is heartfelt and relate-able, an expression of individuality when you are being bombarded by both a ghetto culture and the influence of gentrification. Whilst the writing is solid, I did feel that di Vino’s confidence flagged in comparison to the first half. It was frustrating for the audience to be invested in colourful stories, and then have momentum lost. I felt he was almost apologising to us, which was unnecessary given the strength of the piece.
I left the theatre feeling that I had been allowed to witness the early stages of bold new theatre. The text needs finesse, and di Vino needs to find his rhythm in the words to avoid dropping the pace, but I do believe that the Camden Fringe was home to the first preview of what will be a great piece. It fills me with confidence to see someone create something original and real.