Tobia Rossi’s play won the Mario Fratti Award in Italy and this UK premiere features strong performances. The play has intriguing moments but is plagued by oddities and a lack of detail. The conclusion, especially, fails to convince dramatically.
The scenario is neat. Bullied at school, Gio runs away to a cave and then starts a relationship with a classmate, Mirko, who discovers him by accident. But even simple sets-ups need elaborating; how small (and backwards) the boys’ village is could be evoked better.
It might help to know how old both boys actually are. They seem very naïve for teenagers. A plot to pretend Gio has been kidnapped, including a gruesome scene of mutilation, is close to silly. The inconsistency comes as Rossi spends a lot of time making Gio smart, including giving him a pretty grown-up sense of humour.
Then there’s the boys’ sexual fumbling, which gets giggles but is also uncomfortable. As well as a poorly timed first kiss, it isn’t clear if the more confident Gio is supposed to be seducing his simpler friend.
While the bullying both Gio and then Mirko experience is horrible, it doesn’t seem commensurate with events. OK, both boys are troubled… but that needs to be made a lot clearer. Maybe Gio really is as weird as his classmates think? Or as hungry for attention as his social media fixation suggests? Again, the problem is that Gio is so obviously our hero that a lot of tension escapes: darker sides of both boys aren’t elaborated enough.
Director and translator Carlotta Brentan can do little to avoid problems in the script, although an oppressive score from Simone Manfredini could have been abandoned. There are good performances from Issam Al Ghussain and Nico Cetrulo to enjoy, though. The former does especially well with Rossi’s dark humour. Unfortunately, the play’s ending shadows their achievement.
It isn’t Rossi’s fault that having miserable ends for gay characters isn’t what we’re about nowadays! When Gio wants to come out of his closet, sorry cave, the result is dire. Escalating the play into a tragedy needs a surer hand and stronger intimations for the audience. Homophobia and bullying are serious topics with awful consequences but, when Hide and Seek aims to becomes a tragedy, the shock and surprise are too much.
Until 23 February 2023
Photo by Mariano Gobb