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Theatre Review: Tally's Blood ***

Michael Cox reviews a 'delightful' production of a modern Scottish classic.

Ann Marie Di Mambro’s play Tally’s Blood has endured for over 30 years. Written in 1990, the play has enjoyed multiple stagings and has become a staple in arts education—with its many themes and colourful characters, it’s easy to see why it’s such a favourite.

For those who aren’t familiar, the play spans three decades, chronicling events from the late 1930s to the mid 1950s and focuses on Massimo and Rosinella Pedreschi, a hard-working Italian couple who run a café in Scotland. Unable to have their own children, they are raising their beloved niece, Lucia, and are respected members of the community. The play’s first act looks at how WWII affects their lives, while the second is more of a culture clash as Lucia’s maturity leads Rosinella to take a protective stance that results in multiple conflicts.

For a piece that tackles many challenging themes, the play is rather warm and filled with charm and humour. It also has a collection of characters who are empathetic and easy to root for. Director Ken Alexander’s production is constantly sharp—it teeters between pathos and humour with ease, and the cast are uniformly great, particularly Andy Clark as Massimo and Carmen Pieraccini as Rosinella.

And yet, the script also feels a little too safe. With its rich themes and solid two-hander scenes between interesting characters, it’s clear to see why this has become a favourite with teachers. Yet, with that also comes a feeling of watching a relic: a play from the past that is still a delight but has a whiff of yesteryears. It isn’t the setting—the play would have been an historic piece when it premiered in the 90s, yet for a play that traverses three decades and tackles major social issues, everything is wrapped in a nice comfortable bow at the end.

Which might be exactly what audiences want, and if that’s the case then they shall get it here. Tally’s Blood is a delight and deserves to be seen, particularly by students studying the play. It’s just that, when one looks at the cannon of modern Scottish theatre, this one sits comfortably on the ‘safe’ shelf. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a nice vanilla cone, and it’s rather ironic that what it’s missing is its titular ‘Tally’s blood’ of raspberry sauce.

Tally’s Blood is at Perth Theatre until September 30, 2023. It tours Scotland until November 4, 2023.

Tags: theatre

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