Diary of an Expat at the Tristan Bates Theatre
“Expat” is another word for migrant, specifically designating a person who, when given the chance, freely chose (rather than being forced by war or third-world conditions) to move out of his/her country. The integration of the United Kingdom had its highs and lows for Cecilia Gragnani, one of the many expats who felt unwanted, all of a sudden, when the results of the Brexit referendum pointed at the Europeans as invaders. The writer-performer shares her experiences in this genuine production, which was born from her decision to take the first steps towards her naturalisation as a British citizen.
The primary question that runs through the one-hour show is how the protagonist can become fully integrated while staying faithful to her Italian roots. As she takes us through her life in the UK, from a veneration for the tidiness on the streets to the appreciation of the multicultural population, from the difficulties of achieving a perfect British accent to the extreme flexibility of job hunting, ten years in London pass by. Gragnani, who wrote the script together with Jvan Sica and Loredana de Michelis, opens up about some of her most awkward moments, opposing stereotypes and unpacking the disappointment of 26th June 2016, when everything changed. Just like in a diary, episodes and personal reflections flow into one another, woven together with great energy and an unstoppable desire to continue building a life on the island.
The drama is well supported by a good dose of humour, mostly delivered through the performer’s unmistakable facial expressions and her perfectly calibrated movements on the stage. Taking over the whole space available and acting with confidence, Gragnani ensures the monologue remains very lively. The excerpts of Italian that inevitably find their way into the piece and the few interactions with “London” – voiced by Steve Wickenden – add variety. From time to time, the actress lets key facts and serious considerations transpire through a paragraph read out by a member of the audience, the lines of a fictitious neighbour who contradicts the rulebook of Britishness or a scattering of impossible questions for passing the citizenship test.
Though the play is clear in its message, including more life events with episodes from the daily reality of migrants would have produced a better result than the sporadic appeals to morality that, after two years, have been heard all too often.
Italians and migrants may find the show funnier than others, but Diary of an Expat nonetheless remains a fully enjoyable show for everyone alike.
Photo: Courtesy of Paper Smokers
Diary of an Expat is at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 24th April until 27th April 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.