"The country is on the brink of bankruptcy and divided by a disastrous war. Parliament stinks and no-one knows what to do. Sound familiar? This is Italy in the 1920s. One man has the answer - unfortunately it's Benito Mussolini; the devout socialist who invented Fascism."
Ross Gurney-Randall portrays the former Fascist dictator of Italy as both a hunted and a haunted man as the Allies and partisans close in on him.
In turn he is bombastic and vainglorious when he thinks that the Italian people are unworthy of his great genius; or he is full of self doubt as he cowers from Allied aircraft. At times he comes across as an ineffective teacher of an especially rowdy class. He recalls his early lifte, his commendation as a socialist leader by Comrade Lenin and his transformation from socialist agitator to Fascist dictator.
This powerful one-man-show gets right inside Mussolini's head. The humour is dark but not forced as the depressed Duce recollects significant events in his life; the March on Rome, the murder of socialist leader Matteoti, his son-in-law's treachery which led to his removal from office and his arrest and imprisonment on the orders of the King,
Gurney-Randall brings to life his mixed feelings about being rescued on Hitler's orders, his installation as head of state of the puppet Salo republic and how his hand was forced to have his son-in-law shot for his treachery. Regrets? He had a few as all his hopes and dreams came crashing down around him. This fine play tells all. (David Kerr, Counter Culture, 2010)
Excerpt from multi-review article
Meanwhile, things could have been so different for 20th century Italy if an illiterate blacksmith hadn't taught himself to read in order to devour the works of Karl Marx. This devoutly Socialist blacksmith was the father of Benito Mussolini - who in turn was the father of Italy's Fascist movement and the begetter of schisms and national debacles that continue to plague the country even now.
Not a laughing matter, surely? It is the way Ross Gurney-Randall tells it. His Benito is shambolic, insecure, wily and opportunistic, with aspirations of grandeur and a flair for high-sounding oratory. Maybe we would be duped too, but Gurney-Randall's Benito speaks with an Estuary accent that hilariously deflates the public bombast and casts the private man as a sad loser chasing love and approval.
You wouldn't buy a used shirt - black or otherwise - from this flim-flam merchant, let alone an ideology that wobbles and compromises under pressure.
As a slice of satirised history, this solo show is pungently clever and hugely enjoyable. But it reaches beyond Mussolini's grandstanding ineptitude by pinpointing how troubled times can make voters gullible. Well worth an hour of your time - and on until Monday. (Mary Brennan, Herald Scotland, 2010)
Anyone climbing to the top of the political greasy pole must exhibit passion, conviction and charisma. Ross Gurney-Randall's powerful portrayal gives us an insight into the complex personality of Italy's most notorious dictator.
"Trying to govern the Italian people isn't difficult, it's merely pointless" is just one of a number of Mussolini's classic one-liners in this biographical portrayal of the Italian dictator from Ross Gurney-Randall. Mixing facts with some pithy and dark humour, Gurney-Randall injects passion, conviction and no little energy to his performance, his piercing eyes, bull neck and alternately threatening and vulnerable demeanour going a long way to conveying the complex personality behind arguably Italy's most notorious leader.
Pivoting around the period when Mussolini was fleeing from both the closing Allied net and the threat of Italian partisans - with only the latter likely to kill him - Gurney-Randall takes us back to Mussolini's roots as a school teacher and one time journalist. A self-educated man with interests as diverse as Plato, Dante, Machiavelli and Nietzsche, his rise to power was evolutionary rather than the more direct route taken by his psychotic protégé, one Adolf Hitler. But rise to power he did, ultimately acquiring all the characteristics of a dictator - arrogance, hubris and narcissism included.
Yet a lot of the principles that Mussolini espoused were in many ways ahead of their time - universal suffrage and proportional representation being just two. However, espousing principles is one thing, acting on them is another. Like a lot of dictators, Mussolini talked a good game but his desire to cling to power persuaded him to continually forsake principles for the pragmatism that preserved his status as Italian supremo.
All of this comes across through Gurney-Randall's storytelling as well as Mussolini's growing vulnerability as his empire starts to unwind in the latter stages of the war against the Allies. Whilst tending towards the didactic at times, Gurney-Randall gets close enough to his subject to reveal elements of the human side behind an essentially villainous individual. It's a finely judged performance - just as you might be thinking there was the possibility that Mussolini has been misunderstood, the door on potential redemption is slammed shut with further exposes of what remain horrific acts against his people, including the 15,000 Jews he sent to their deaths.
This was an effective piece of theatre with a suitcase of carefully chosen artefacts from Mussolini's life augmented by clever lighting that made excellent use of a relatively tight stage. Gurney-Randall and co-author Dave Mounfield have produced a well-researched script which Paul Hodson has turned into a tightly choreographed performance. Well worth a visit. (Tim Wilcock, fringereview.com, 2010)
This engaging one-man portrayal of the rise and fall of Mussolini will manage to capture even the most jaded of imaginations. The combination of simple yet effective props and aptly used sound effects eases the audience's journey through the twists and turns of twentieth century politics, though due to its historical and political focus, this is certainly a niche market performance, and some prior knowledge of the subject is required in order to fully understand Ross Gurney- Randall's intelligent humour. I did, however, learn something along the way; having just spent £10,000 on a history degree, I am convinced my love for the subject would have been vastly heightened by having this man as my teacher. (Sarah Jordan, Three Weeks, 2010)
There's been quite a trend in biographical monologues about prominent fascists. First it was Pip Utton with Adolf in 1997, then Ross Gurney-Randall with Goering's Defence in 2002. Now, the latter returns with a portrayal of Mussolini.
What all of these projects have in common is the desire to come closer to the human being behind the image of villainy that those figures have acquired. After all - however evil they might have been - they all had enough charisma and political skill to climb to the top and take the lead of significant numbers of people.
You might be surprised to find that Mussolini had begun his career as a schoolmaster. The son of a blacksmith who had taught himself to read in order to read Marx, Benito enjoyed Plato, Dante, Machiavelli and Nietzsche. He also worked as a journalist for a while and his ultimate downfall was his weakness for women.
Gurney-Randall puts energy and dynamism into the portrayal, adding childlike fervour to his numerous pursuits (which also included posing for photographs). This is all done with taste and Paul Hodson ensures that while adding nuance to the depiction of a dictator, he is never in danger of being redeemed for his sins. (Duska Radosavljevic, The Stage, 2010)