Looking for Alibrandi reinspires audiences old and new

Kaylah Joelle Baker

Following the success of Melina Marchetta’s early ‘90s iconic novel and the beloved classic film that followed, the heart-warming story of Looking for Alibrandi is set to premiere at the Malthouse Theatre.

While the novel and film centre around the journey of teenager Josie Alibrandi as she navigates life, confusion of identity and her family expectations as a third-generation Italian in Australia, the theatre production delves a little deeper.

From a carefully crafted decision made by film-to-theatre adapter Vidya Rajan, and brought to life by director Stephen Nicolazzo, the theatre production delves deeper into the lives of all the Alibrandi women.

But actor Lucia Mastrantone, who plays Josie’s mother Christina Alibrandi, said that while dedicated fans of the storyline would see iconic scenes honoured, the adapted version had opened the story up in a way that expanded the conversation.

“It’s now not just about Italian communities, it is about family, generational stories and family secrets which every culture has,” Ms Mastrantone said.

“I think this production will speak to a whole new generation of young women that come from different and diverse backgrounds, so I am excited to see how audiences are going to react.”

For Ms Mastrantone, being a part of the Looking for Alibrandi family is not just an acting opportunity but rather one that speaks directly to her own life.

Growing up in Adelaide in a very traditional Italian community the prospect of a career in theatre was one that was “shamed” and met with “community judgement”.

The perception that women were discouraged from pursuing careers and furthering their education was a lived experience for Ms Mastrantone and the reason behind her decision to move to Sydney.

It was then as she was missing her family back home that she came across the Looking for Alibrandi novel, and from there a connection with the book and storyline formed.

“I have this really amazing and long connection with the book and then a couple years later I worked with the producer of the film as she asked me to come in and be one of the readers for the audition,” she said.

In her late 20s at the time, Ms Mastrantone was considered a little too old for the character of Josie, but it was there that she was able to witness Pia Miranda make the role her own.

Now after a near 30-year connection with the book, Ms Mastrantone is playing the generation before hers in the role of Josie’s mother, one she finds a “really beautiful and moving role”.

Not dissimilar from Ms Mastrantone’s story, director Stephen Nicolazzo is also equally drawn to the storyline for personal reasons.

“The story has always compelled me because it spoke so directly to the conflict I experienced, socially and internally. I was scared to embrace my identity for fear of not being able to access an Anglo-centric world,” he said.

“Josie was the first character I had ever read or seen on screen that understood what it was like.”

A heart-wrenching, honest and passionate adaptation, the cast of the theatre production has been determined to give migrants an often-unspoken perspective, despite facing difficulties behind-the-scenes.

Back for the first time in the same rehearsal room after getting sick one by one, and having to resort to online rehearsals, the cast is back and working extra hard to make old fans and new fans of Looking for Alibrandi proud.

Their motivation has so far been paying off, with the Malthouse Theatre choosing to extend the season an extra week, allowing the show to run from July 9 to 31 before it heads off to Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney. •

malthousetheatre.com.au

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