In a cacophonous Italian town, a young girl nicknamed Vivaldi – after the famous composer – lives in a haberdasher with her father. “She could conduct orchestras before she could walk,” explains the narrator in Louis Lovett’s new play, a comedy for young audiences that’s as cheerfully imaginative as it sounds.
Stunningly august for her age, Vivaldi (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman) has ears so delicate, she’s reliant on a special pair of earmuffs to sort melodies from noise. With a twist of a dial and the imagined stroke of a cello, she composes personalised songs for paying customers, before yelling bad-temperedly: ‘Next!’
Vibrancy is everywhere in directors Muireann Ahearn and Carl Kennedy’s charming production, from the striped shop-poles of Zia Bergin-Holly’s set to the lucid trench coats of Liadain Kaminska’s and Ahern’s costuming. In performance, Lovett switches seamlessly between narration and dialogue, transforming into a number of comical figures. A chef confesses he needs to work on his Italian accent. A gondolier attracted to mermaids is cool-headed and slick.
This all sounds reassuring but Theatre Lovett are at the top of their game when they let young audiences take the leap into darker realms (their version of Hansel and Gretel was stirring). Thrillingly, when a suspicious man walks into the haberdasher, Kennedy and Lovett’s sumptuous music turns to vexed violins, as if something foul were afoot.
Indeed, Vivaldi’s earmuffs soon go missing, in a wave of burglaries sweeping the town. As she leaves the haberdasher to search for them, it dawns that this is a tale about a withdrawn young person overwhelmed by the world. Her life, we learn, is overshadowed by the death of her mother. Hulme-Beaman’s performance, inspiring in its consternation, grows poignantly awkward.
That’s a nice touch to Lovett’s plot, leading shy Vivaldi out to make companions. ‘I like you,’ she smiles to a goofy hairdresser who’s scissors have been stolen. Instead of a haircut, he throws open his neglected wardrobe and rediscovers his talents as a clothes designer. The chef, without his salt, seeks out new recipes. The gondolier, without his oar, goes in search for an undersea girlfriend. Each robbery seems to have its upside.
It all leads to a tremendous sword fight with the thief, and a Wizard of Oz-style revelation that the power of self-expression was there all along. With exciting determination, Vivaldi conducts her orchestra. They’ll call her marvellous.
They Called Her Vivaldi is on until 23 December 2017 at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Click here for more details.