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Last Updated: Friday, 5 December, 2003, 17:47 GMT
Fo's play gives Berlusconi a roasting

By Tamsin Smith
BBC reporter in Rome

Nobel Prize-winning actor and playwright Dario Fo is courting controversy with a satirical play poking fun at Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Fo has made a career out of attacking those in power and so his latest play, The Two Headed Anomaly, opened at Rome's Teatro Olimpico this week to a full house and a curious audience.

Poster for The Two Headed Anomaly
Dario Fo stars with his wife Franca Rame in The Two Headed Anomaly
Small wonder. On stage, the plotline swoops from the vaguely real to the fantastically surreal.

Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin are friends, in the play and in life. In the play, though, they both get shot by Chechen terrorists.

Mr Putin is killed instantly, and the only way to save Mr Berlusconi is to give him a piece of the dead man's brain.

The PM wakes from a coma with severe memory loss, a penchant for vodka and strange flashbacks of life in the KGB.

He remembers nothing about his political career and is shocked when his wife tells him about the life he has lived and the laws he has passed.

Slapstick humour

Dario Fo plays Mr Berlusconi in the two-person show, while his wife Franca Rame portrays the PM's wife, Veronica Lario.

There's a good deal of Chaplin-style slapstick humour, and Fo uses clever stage tricks to portray Berlusconi, known to be sensitive about his stature, as a puppet dwarf.

But there are also darker undertones. In one scene Mr Berlusconi's flight to Iraq turns into a kamikaze attack on President George Bush and the American troops.

In another, his alleged mafia connections and conflicts of interests make an appearance.

Dario Fo
Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997
It was all good entertainment as far as the audience was concerned, who laughed at the jokes and clapped with delight at the comic portrayal of their prime minister.

"I thought it was really funny," said one audience member. "I loved the puppet of Berlusconi."

"I liked it," commented another. "But it's a weird satire because all the jokes about the prime minister are not fiction, they are reality."

According to Fo, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, the play nearly did not make it to the stage at all.

"There were politicians and officials who went to our home theatre in Milan," said the 77-year-old playwright.

"They said that unless they pulled the plug on our show, there would be a question mark over whether the theatre's cultural grants in the future would be guaranteed."

"The message was clear - stop the show or we'll stop your funding."

'International scandal'

The board of directors at Milan's Teatro Piccolo demanded to see a copy of the script before agreeing to stage the show.

Fo said this was "out of the question", as much of his plays are improvised until the first performance.

"My wife and I are the most performed living playwrights in the world at the moment, so this was an international scandal," he said.

However, support came from an unexpected source - Veronica Lario herself.

Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin
Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin are friends in real life
Despite being satirised in the play, the former actress told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that "censorship is a horrible thing - hateful, always unacceptable".

Fo insisted that although his play focuses on Berlusconi, it is not an attack on the man himself.

"As head of state he profits from his position and makes laws for himself," he explained.

"I don't want to get personal, but this play is an attack on anyone anywhere who abuses power in this way."

But some of the PM's friends believed the show was nothing but anti-Berlusconi propaganda.

"Dario Fo is playing on the fact that saying things against Berlusconi will go down well with the theatre crowd here," said Lucio Malan of the Forza Italia political party.

Judging by the line of people queuing to buy tickets, the accusations of censorship - whether true or not - are good publicity.

Satirising the prime minister is a lucrative business - provided you get away with it.

Italy gets Globe Theatre replica
14 Oct 03  |  Europe

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