Elin Williams is at the Chapter Arts Centre to review Clyde Chabot’s Sicilia as part of the International Performance Festival Cardiff.
The chances are if you were to be dropped on the island of Sicily without any knowledge of where you were you would make the perfectly plausible assumption that you were in Italy. Despite having its own language and culture, Sicily is often grouped with Italy, oddly enough in the same way that Wales is grouped with England.
Artist Clyde Chabot invites an intimate audience of twenty five around a dinner table, offering Sicilian wine, bread and cheese, allowing for a brief glimpse into the unique culture of this often overlooked island. As part of Cardiff’s International Performance Festival, the show focuses on the loss of culture, the loss of language and the loss of roots. With a brief history of the Sicilian migration, Chabot puts the issue into perspective and speaks directly to the audience, informing them that a mere five million Sicilians remain on the mother land, whilst a massive eighteen million of Sicilian descent are now based in America. Many more are living in France, Tunisia and Morocco.
Raised in France, Clyde Chabot wonders if any Chicago Mafia may be related to her, whether an old photograph in a shop window in Sicily bears a resemblance to her family. She confesses that one of the only Sicilian traditions that she has inherited is a tomato and garlic sauce.
Chabot recounts her personal memories of her Sicilian grandmother, a woman who insisted on her chaste marriage to a virtuous man. She remembers certain phrases uttered in childhood, the perhaps stereotypical phrase ‘Mamma Mia!’ which she no longer hears from older members of her family. The loss of one small phrase is symbolic of a greater loss of language.
Whilst Chabot encourages the audience to look at the photographs dotted around the dinner table, she mourns her Sicilian ancestors, wonders who they were and where they went. She addresses the greater issues connected to mass migration, the loss of a language which she cannot not speak. Whilst the history of this perhaps often disregarded culture is fascinating, its pertinence is extremely difficult to ignore. The loss of culture and language is a tragic thing, and when one considers Wales, these concerns can almost definitely be attributed to the small country which is tied to England. The concerns addressed by this performance almost certainly echo similar fears for our own Welsh culture. Despite the differences in mass migration and the speed at which this happened in Sicily, it still speaks directly to some Welsh people. To lose a language, to lose roots and inherently culture; perhaps Sicily and Wales have more in common than meets the eye.
Despite the poetic tones of her script, Clyde Chabot’s performance is incredibly natural. She captures the imaginations of every audience member who remain completely silent and hang on her every word. The relaxed atmosphere encourages a greater concentration, and the audience are left to consider the questions and issues raised over a glass of Sicilian red.