Venetian satirist back for more…

Posted: March 30, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews

© Astrid Stark. 

First published in the Weekender 28 March ‘09



Cardboard mime master, Ennio Marchetto, has been invited back to South Africa for a third run of his popular one-man performance.  In return, he received a rare Cape Town gift; the standing ovation.

The Venetian comedian has created his own theatrical language by mixing music, mime, dance, humour, a fair dollop of satire, and a variety of celebrity style paper costumes. Apart from the fact that his approach is highly unusual; it is also very funny.  Marchetto imitates iconic and historical figures such as Freddy Mercury, Madonna, Tina Turner, the three tenors, an entire Gregorian choir, and our own Miriam Makeba during a slick, dramatic and mind boggling routine.

His characters are easily accessible and his detailed attention to the various celebrity mannerisms has the audience howling with laughter.  

When Marchetto is not romping about as Edith Pfiaf or Liza Minelli, he is a soft-spoken, almost retiring, man who enjoys digging around in his Venetian garden. One of his favourite haunts is Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.  “I have to work with my hands, I love being creative,” he smiles.   Theatre stalwart, Pieter Toerien first spotted Marchetto at the Spier Festival and insisted that he performs at the Theatre on The Bay. To date Marchetto has performed in 70 countries, to more than a million people.

As a young boy growing up in Venice, he was inspired by Disney characters, and created paper dolls for his little sister.  The fascist Italian government outlawed carnivals in 1930 and it was only in the eighties that the Carnival of Venice was revived with the opening of a modern mask shop.  Marchetto worked at such a shop until he turned 28, though he secretly dreamt of having his own show.  “Masks are not just for the face,” Marchetto murmurs in a heavy Italian accent, “I like to create a mask for the entire body”.

His father had a vision of his son taking over the family’s espresso machine repair shop. Marchetto fantasized about Marilyn Monroe, or rather a cardboard cut-out version of her.  He created a Monroe body mask which he wore during the street carnival. It won him the 1988 Golden Lion at the Venetian entertainment festival.  Soon other paper characters followed, then TV shows, cabarets, and more awards. “Nowadays I have no more time to make special carnival costumes,” says Marchetto, “but when I’m in a good mood, and in Venice, you might see me dressed as the Mona Lisa.”

Marchetto’s show is an hour of high drama and energy.  In one show there are around 50 characters made out of up to 300 pieces of card.  He can manage 5 costume changes in 15 seconds without tearing the characters apart.  Well, almost.  He says that at times some bits of costume disappear into the stage floor’s cracks, or “overenthusiastic audience members takes them home”. He always has his repair kit handy.

The rarity of his performance lies largely with the design of the cardboard costumes.  The performer initially designed and made his own costumes until he met Sosthen Hennekam, a fashion designer who has worked with Jean Paul Gaultier.  “Sosthen’s designs added a kind of sophistication to the costumes,” says Marchetto. 

Sosthen introduced new origami quick-change techniques to the outfits and within a month the pair had enough paper costumes to do a one hour show.  The costumes are made from a mixture of cardboard and plastic, “because I sweat a lot,” with Velcro strategically placed where different character ‘layers’ meet.  With a careful pluck and tuck, Marchetto transforms a flat surface, into a bulbous version of Elvis Presley’s outrageous hair-do.  A few more flips and out pops Dolly Parton sitting on a donkey. The highly visual show plays out in front of your eyes until there is only a heap of discarded cardboard body parts scattered all across the stage. 

During his routine Marchetto mocks celebrities, pushes the boundaries, and then breaks into a lighter romp.  Amy Winehouse quaffs cocktails and grows ever more unsteady on her feet throughout her performance. Celine Dion’s performance is droll and her body blossoms into the sinking Titanic. However, Marchetto says its Barbara Streisands’ appearance that gets quite a reaction. “At times people will complain and ask why we can’t just leave the Jews alone,” he sighs. This, he says, despite the fact that Streisand is one of his favourite stars, “both in paper and in real life”.

Mime and puppetry transcends language barriers and Marchetto’s performance is much loved all over Europe, America and Japan.  In 1998 Ennio performed for Prince Charles during the annual Royal Variety Show, broadcasted on the BBC. That same year he did a private show for the Dutch royal family on the birthday of the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix.  Marchetto says the British are very receptive to his work, “A lot of my characters are British, so perhaps they feel they can easily relate,” he says. According to Marchetto the Cape Town audiences are somewhat easier to please than their Johannesburg relatives.  “Maybe it’s time for a revisit,” he smiles.  

 Ennio Marchetto’s show runs until 28 March at the Theatre on The Bay.



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