This is not The Godfather. Theatre Movement Bazaar are at pains to point this out. Big Shot is part homage, part pastiche, but mostly it’s about patriarchs, power and pasta. It’s interrogation rather than adaptation: a genre-bending whirlwind of criminal choreography, lightning dialogue, and a swelling soundtrack that asks its audience to suspend what they know of Mario Puzo’s book and Francis Ford Coppola’s film and get down to the nitty gritty of what it is to be an outsider, the straight one in a crook family, the wife of a mafioso, the middle son, or a Kraut-Mick boy who’ll never be Italian.
Almost all the Corleone family are here, not to mention the actors playing them. As Mark Skeens points out, he’s a man playing a man (Al Pacino) playing a man (Michael Corleone). The only notable absentee is Don Vito Corleone himself (Marlon Brando wasn’t available it turns out). Instead we, the audience, are asked to fill in for him, presiding over family squabbles and spaghetti and even entering into some audience interaction via a live reading of that immortal quote, ‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse’. Towards the end of the piece, the actors introduce themselves to the audience, detailing their cultural heritage (Brazilian, Cherokee, Swedish, Italian, Irish, German), and in doing so offering yet another dimension to this dramatised cultural space that is (and is not) The Godfather.
It is this self-consciousness of the process of inspiration and adaptation that makes Big Shot TMB’s most accomplished work at the Fringe to date. All the hallmarks of TMB’s inimitable style are here, from the quick fire fixed point delivery of lines face out to the audience, to the slick physical movement routines between scenes and worlds. But where in Track 3 these clouded Chekhov’s deliberate banality with their comedic flair, and in Hot Cat distracted from the psychological depth of Tenessee Williams’ characters, here they seem only to enhance the status of the Corleones as cultural icons – mythical figures whose power is inextricably bound up with a cult of personality that is at once performative and historical.
Paradoxically, in choosing The Godfather as a subject for investigation, creators Tina Kronis and Richard Alger have created their strongest adaptation yet, that is also not an adaptation at all, in effect redefining the process of translation from text to stage altogether. Perhaps this was always the aim, in which case we might view the the epigraph, ‘aka this is not The Godfather‘, as a disclaimer, one which could have equally been applied to their previous work (‘aka this is not Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, ‘aka this is not Three Sisters‘ and so on). But there is something in the amorphous quality of The Godfather as cultural artefact – a book belonging to the hack genre of crime thrillers, written for money by Puzo; a cult classic film that spawned two sequels and was the making of Coppola as a director – that makes it the perfect subject for TMB’s wry interrogation of genre and character.
Working from the outside in, from the framing device of an imagined law suit against Puzo attempting to bowdlerize the novel on the basis that it glamourises violence, to an investigation of the intricate bonds that bind a family together in an illicit business, TMB leave no stone unturned, no angle unassessed, in their post-cultural meta-theatrical debate on what makes (or doesn’t make) a ‘big shot’.