The write stuff: Paolo Nani brings international hit The Letter to Edinburgh for his Fringe debut

This article is from 2019

The write stuff

credit: Cinzia Campana

Back in 1992 mime artist Nani created an enduring physical show about a simple scenario played out in various ways. We ask him how he keeps it fresh

Italy's Paolo Nani has been performing his one-man show The Letter for almost three decades. Accompanied only by a suitcase full of props, Nani enters the stage, sits down to write a letter, puts it in an envelope, sticks a stamp on it and starts to leave. Then he pauses, worried that his pen might have no ink, and so checks the letter before realising he's not written a thing. He then leaves the stage, despondent. 'That's it!' says Nani.

Of course that's not really 'it' at all. What follows is 15 hilarious iterations on this very basic story. 'It's one scene repeated 15 times,' Nani says. 'Nothing much happens in this first scene but then the same scene is repeated backwards or with surprises.' Nani is wary of giving too much away, keen for audiences to experience these variations for themselves. 'There is no music, no lighting effects, no special costume, no words. But everything is clear to the audience from the beginning to the end.' The sequence is replayed with a variety of twists including as a Western, performed in reverse, and without the use of his hands. Each version plays up to Nani's immense strengths as a clown and mime artist.

The actor and director established his company, Paolo Nani Teater, in Denmark in 1995, and it's from there that he still creates his theatrical work. Much of that material is solo performance but he also works as a director and collaborator on other people's projects. Notably, Nani has worked extensively with Kristján Ingimarsson, producer of BLAM!, the office-set hyper-physical theatre sensation which took the Fringe by storm in 2013. This is Nani's Fringe debut and The Letter's Scottish premiere.

Nani reckons he's performed the show somewhere between 1500 and 1600 times, and in 40 countries since its inception in 1992. 'And across three continents,' he adds with a laugh. Of The Letter's immense and enduring popularity, he admits, 'I'm the first one to be surprised.'

The Letter, Pleasance Dome, Bristo Square, 3–25 Aug (not 12, 19), 5.30pm, £11–£12 (£9.50–£11; family ticket £9.50–£10.50). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £7.

The Letter

  • 4 stars

Paolo Nani Teater A sparkling comedy classic and international hit show from 'one of the world's greatest clowns' (La Repubblica). Paolo Nani, alone on stage, with props that can be held in a suitcase and without saying a single word, performs 15 acts, all of them based on the same theme, but played in 15 hilarious…