Carlotta Brentan on La Mandragola

We’re fast approaching the end of our rehearsal period for The Mandrake Root, and the closer we get to our first performance, the more discoveries we make about this incredible text – and the more I wish we had extra time to play with it!

There is a reason Machiavelli is revered as one of the greatest political thinkers of Italian history. Of course, he’s better known for his treatises like The Prince, but even when he’s technically writing fiction for popular entertainment, he manages to drench it in razor-sharp political satire – while simultaneously creating a hilarious, riotous and eminently watchable spectacle.

All of this has made working on The Mandrake Root an extremely interesting and challenging experience. As actors, we need to respect the style in which the play was first written. We have to take Machiavelli’s stock characters, often reminiscent of Commedia Dell’Arte figures, and try and bring them to life as they were originally conceived. That means embracing some of their over-the-top features, such as extreme emotions (Callimaco), excessive stupidity (Messer Nicia) or deeply ironic faults (Fra Timoteo), and embodying them on the stage. We have to remember that this play was first written not to be performed in quiet auditorium with a mute audience sitting respectfully in their darkened seats – but rather at a celebration, in front of a riotous audience who is talking and laughing – and sometimes screaming and shouting – as loudly as the actors themselves.

At the same time, we have to bring this play into the 21st century – and Machiavelli’s wit and wisdom is such that this hasn’t been hard to do. So many sentences in The Mandrake Root – so many characters – are straight out of a page of yesterday’s ‘New York Times,’ or ‘La Repubblica.’ In bringing the play to the current day, our job as actors is also finding the depth and multi-dimensional nature of these characters, giving them the human needs and realistic motivations that a contemporary audience will automatically expect. That has been a challenging journey, but a thrill in itself!

We have an incredible cast, who have fully committed to the intricacies and demands of this play without holding anything back. I sincerely hope that our two upcoming performances of this play will be just the beginning, because it would be heart breaking to give this – this work, this world – up after just two chances of sharing it with the public.

I hope to see you all there!