The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti is a unique, dark comedy written by Cassandra-Elli Yiannacou and directed by Chris Hosking where three people from different times but with similar pain, create a family to help combat the loneliness they all feel.
Carlo Gatti introduced ice-cream to Victorian London, a fact I didn’t know until this show (this is going to be my new fun fact to randomly tell people). Carlo Gatti isn’t actually a character in this play, but the characters and story are far more interesting and thought provoking than the story of ice-cream coming to London would be.
The idea that a physicist (El Kiley) and psychologist (Shamita Siva) are both hearing Liszt being played on piano above them, despite both living on the top floor has the potential to be a horror story, but The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti is so much more than this unique premise. When both these characters start to hear ‘Chopsticks’ being played above them, this is the final straw. Both make the individual choice to investigate the mysterious playing, but a suicide attempt is what really brings these characters together. The mysterious playing is discovered to come from a Victorian Era ghost (Connor Dariol), who has been trying to get attention for some time.
The drive for the ghost was his loneliness, a feeling both the physicist and psychologist feel, and I’m sure this is something everyone has felt at some point. This is part of what makes The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti such a powerful production, seeing these characters each struggle with feeling isolated from the world, including their blood family, so this seemingly once in a lifetime bond between them is so strong for all three.
Now, I should mention the pianist ghost isn’t the only one from a different time. The physicist is from 1983, where her gayness isn’t yet excepted, and the only place she can find comfort is with the music of Elton John. This revelation is eventually shelved, as their growing love for each other and a minuet understanding of quantum gravity are more important.
The internal suffering of all characters is so believable due to the immense talent of the three actors, but it was El Kiley who really took my breath away. Her character’s pain and isolation from society and her family is expressed in every muscle, in some of the darker moments of the play I wanted to step on the stage and embrace her because her pain felt that real.
This doesn’t take away from the brilliance of the other actors, Connor Dariol is charming and funny, to the point that when his character later revealed deception, it wasn’t enough for me to dislike him. Shamita Siva’s portrayal of a conflicted psychologist was grounded, her familiar conflict remained relatable, and I was so happy to see her open her heart to her new friends Despite all these impressive performances, it was Kiley’s that stuck with me the most.
The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti can get incredibility dark at some points, standing on the precipice of making me uncomfortable with some of the themes. Yet, there were some moments with so much joy that it felt like a cushion after some darker parts. Like a comforting hug after a difficult event, a joyous rendition of Elton John’s ‘Benny and the Jets’ was a much-needed reprieve from the darker content. The content isn’t mishandled, Yiannacou has written a powerful play.
While there were times that I felt it was all a little too much (which is more a personal feeling rather than a negative critique), there were some pieces of dialogue that I found hard to believe any real person would speak. Although, one of the characters is a Victorian ghost, so perhaps my critique of some dialogue being unbelievable isn’t necessarily valid.
As a whole, The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti is a beautiful piece of art. I may have found some dialogue unbelievable and the ending being so dark, I felt uncomfortable. However, my partner I attended the performance with didn’t agree with my criticisms. I highly recommend taking the warnings seriously as some may find the content too much, to the point of distress, but for those able to see The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti, I must admit, very few pieces of art are brave enough to discuss these darker themes with such care.
The Marvellous Life of Carlo Gatti is now playing at Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory until the 13th of August.
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Photography by Sarah J Clarke.