BWW Review: DIARY OF AN EXPAT, Tristan Bates Theatre
Cecilia Gragnani moved to London from Milan ten years ago with stars in her eyes, anticipating the vibrant world that would be spreading out in front of her once in the city. She was fascinated by the neatness of the rows of Victorian houses lining the streets and excited to start her new life as an Italian expat.
Her devotion to sausage rolls and the Queen has been tested multiple times since then but her enthusiasm and sheer love for this foreign nation has given her the strength to survive in a country that can't quite get her surname right.
In Diary of an Expat (written alongside Jvan Sica and Loredana de Michelis), she details the struggles and tribulations of migrants using seamless comedy laced with a natural humour.
She hits all the relevant political issues with tongue-in-cheek precision and a substantial dose of sarcasm, tearing down stereotypes on both sides of the argument and painting London under an honest light.
Expressive and genuinely hilarious, Gragnani switches between making the case for her naturalisation reading from "Life in the United Kingdom" - a book that prepares the candidates for the test that will lead them to citizenship - and telling her story from the very first steps she took on British soil.
At times, London itself becomes an upbeat and snarky voice (Steve Wickenden) that gives her suggestions on how to embrace the culture, nagging her and pointing out her inadequacies in lists of faux pas in order to help her out.
The series of anecdotes makes her prose specific and dynamic, but manages to steer away from generalisation to turn her personal experience into a joyous ode to expatriate life under Katharina Reinthaller's direction and dramaturgy.
She depicts the odd jobs she had to take on, the cultural clash, the difficulties of assembling the correct paperwork to become a citizen, the loss of identity and slight guilt in pledging allegiance to a monarch after being born in a republic, and the emotional cost added to the hefty fees to make it all happen.
Yet, Gragnani keeps the energy and comedy flowing in clockwork pace, building a strong and stable satire that feels relevant and resonant in the current political climate and projects a deep respect and fondness for the UK. Diary of an Expat will have the Italians (and other foreigners) in the room feel like they're looking into a mirror and the rest giggle and reflect.
Photo credit: Rebecca Need-Meaner