Cecilia Gragnani’s Diary of an Expat: Crossing Cultural Divides with a Healthy Laugh
As the current political climate heats up with the scorching and fast-running winds of change across the UK, politically-based comedies and shows will definitely be at the forefront of the 2018 Fringe Festival. However, one in particular stands out from the crowd for its unassuming and relatable nature. Witty and poignant, Diary of an Expat directed by Katharina Reinthall, will be coming to Edinburgh after a successful debut in London. In an interview with Italian Brew, Cecilia Gragnani, creator and star of the show, speaks of her one-woman comedic monologue as a project which has been taking shape and evolving throughout the years. It was “initially intended for Italian audiences” and created in order to “debunk the myths surrounding young people who leave to go abroad” and the sense of abandonment of one’s country in favour of “’finding America’, where life is perfect” (Gragnani, translated by the author).
Initially sponsored by the Theatre Delicatessen in London, the relevance and necessity of the show increased dramatically with the advent of Brexit where “the love that many Europeans feel for [the UK]” is mixed to a pre-existing difficulty of integration and that of “becoming a citizen of a country which no longer seems willing to welcome you.” According to Gragnani, the project assumed a new dimension since it appealed “not only to expats but also to [UK nationals] who were unaware . . . of the sentiments of an immigrant” during this process of relocation. She continues: “We hope that [the Fringe] will give us an opportunity to reach a wider audience. . .and to give a voice to a part of the population which is now so ample.” The show is intended to “try and open up questions which would address the huge contradictions” present in current times where an “effective exodus” is juxtaposed to a “climate of closure” both here, in Italy, and America.
When viewed in this light, it may initially seem paradoxical to pick comedy as a medium to convey such an important message. However, Gragnani explains that the show is not “intended to provide a moral lesson” and that comedy and the subsequent interaction with the audience is “the best way to tell the story and create a bond with the audience.” To this effect, Gragnani decided to employ two home-grown products of her beloved England: British humour and the Home Office immigration text “Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents.” The latter, the author explained, is “a treasure of comedy” and “paradoxical” in a way which makes it a “great protagonist of the show.” As said in previous reviews, the show is “a fabulous story of hope and self-belief that has a lot of extremely amusing aspects” (including the use of this official text) and that shows a great capacity for introspection and “making fun of one’s self” (Eastham, londontheatre1.com) while still confronting the audience with current and relevant themes of culture, self and acceptance.
When asked what she hoped for the individual member of the audience to gain from attending her show, Gragnani replied that “aside from a healthy laugh” she would hope for one to “feel less lonely”, since “the experience of an expat there are always strong feelings of solitude” and to “tell a story” which is felt across the UK by a huge part of the population. This is a story which needs to be told, now more than ever, and what better way to cross society’s great divides if not with love and a good, healthy laugh?
written by Eleonora Calviello