I shot Mussolini review by Sue-Anne Hess

***.5 stars

It had all the right ingredients. I shot Mussolini is the true story of Irish woman Violet Gibson who, in 1926, attempted to assassinate Benito Mussolini. Attempted, and failed. A devoutly catholic woman, whose companions were the likes of St Theresa of Avila and Joan of Arc (among others), she had a brilliant mind and a feeble body. Or did she?

Yes, all the ingredients were there. Mystery, madness, suspense, drama and comedy all swirled around this delicate anti-hero / failed murderer, as the Epifanio Pennetta, Chief Superintendant of Police in Rome conducted an unsuccessful investigation of her crime.

Heather Lythe plays the protagonist, Violet Gibson. While Lythe is encouragingly convincing, there is yet an uncomfortable ambiguity around the character. Was Gibson, in fact, mad (as her family had endeavoured to prove)? Or was she intensely lucid, accurately seeing the world spinning out of control? It is hard to tell if the intention was to present the character with this lack of clarity, or if the performance simply had its’ flat moments. Nonetheless, there were exchanges between Gibson and Chief Superintendant Pennetta (a notable performance by Greg Parker), that were hair-raising.

The versatility of the supporting cast was definitely a highlight, playing an impressive array of characters. Transitions between multiple roles, accents and (occasionally) genders happened seamlessly, and it was this precision and agility, contrasted against Lythe’s erratic transitions that gave the story an unsettled feeling.

The stage itself was cleverly constructed, with a few multi-purpose props, and five tall panel screens, used for projecting backdrops and other visualisations. Lighting and sound effects were vaguely realistic, keeping focus firmly on the story at hand. Costuming was subdued, with a basic black pants / white shirt combo that felt the slightest bit rigid. Lythe retained the same costume throughout, and (while understandable,) it again seemed a bit like a missed opportunity.

Overall, I Shot Mussolini gains traction from the reality that “truth is stranger than fiction”. It is the historical context that makes this show engaging, rather than the mechanics of the show itself. Whatever director Alice Bishop was trying to communicate by this show was too obscure for this humble viewer to make out.

I shot Mussolini doesn’t answer any of the questions it asks. There was something left unsatisfied about this show, and perhaps this is the intention Parallels with current world leaders are hard to avoid, as Mussolini’s abundant virtues are extolled to a horrified Gibson. We see in her, the voice of reason (reflected in a madwoman), but was the audience satisfied that her choices were the right ones?

There was an opportunity here. There was an opportunity to be either intensely dramatic, or terribly funny. It might have been hard-hitting, or ridiculous. Unfortunately, I shot Mussolini didn’t land firmly in any of these spaces, and the result was simply an interesting yarn. If you have an interest in the history, or know someone in the cast, this show will make for a decent night out. On its own merits however, there were too many loose ends for the viewer to take away anything specific.

Set: 3.5/5

Costumes: 3/5

Sound: 3/5

Lighting: 3/5

Performances: 3.5/5

Stage management: 3.5/5

Direction: 3.5/5

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