This outstanding debut show sees Vittorio Angelone weave stories and observations from his own life together with the plot of Brian Friel’s 1980s play Translations. The performance is both a remarkably assured and polished hour of stand-up comedy, as well as a painful reminder of persisting anti-Irish sentiment in England.
Friel’s play takes place in a fictional town in Donegal in early 19th century Ireland and is concerned with the efforts of various English military officers seeking to translate Irish placenames into the English language for the Ordinance Survey. The protagonist of the play works as a go-between the Irish and English characters, who speak different languages and therefore struggle to communicate (during an aside whilst outlining the plot of the play, Angelone mentions a previous English audience member who raised her hand to mention she hadn’t realised Ireland had its own language and instead thought it was ‘just an accent, like Scottish’).
Angleone, a young Irish-Italian man who studied and now lives in London, describes being touched by the performance and connecting with its themes of colonial rule and cultural distortion. He also describes, however, being perturbed by the experience of watching the English audience members around him laugh at the perceived stupidity and backwardness of the Irish characters during scenes which had brought him to tears. This unpleasant moment revealed to Angelone the latent anti-Irish prejudice still present in many areas of English society and industries – he mentions the fact that at castings Irish actors are still told they are only suited to play teenage mums, drunks, and ‘mates.’ There is also a worrying anecdote about the residual threat of physical violence against Irish people, thanks to decades of resentful propaganda.
The English, thus, get a deserved kicking throughout the show, especially for the continued ignorance about much of our colonial past. There is a good joke about the hand-wringing over all the ‘divisiveness’ of the last six years following the referendum, from the vantage point of a young man growing up in Belfast. Indeed, despite the serious undertones of Angelone’s routine, we never go thirty seconds without a funny observation or story, including a devastating nickname given to Angelone at school and a truly hilarious anecdote about his grandad struggling to keep up with various pieces of modern technology.
The show rarely lags and is full of great content, delivered with the relaxed demeanour of a comic who knows he is delivering an excellent performance. For a debut, Angelone seems totally in control and the audience stay with him the entire way through the show. There is a palpable sense of excitement at the beginning, and large queues outside to congratulate him at the end. Angelone begins the performance asking what exactly is required to win the Best Newcomer Award, but judging by the rapturous applause at the end he already has a pretty good idea.
Vittorio Angelone, Translations is showing at Monkey Barrel Comedy (Carnivore) August 18-28 at 14:05.
Image: used with permission of author, provided to The Student as press material.