Writer Ann Marie Di Mambro and director Ken Alexander give some insight into the up-coming revival of the much-loved Tally’s Blood.
What is the inspiration behind Tally’s Blood?
Tally’s Blood is inspired by my Scottish/Italian background. Bill Bryden, head of drama at the BBC once told me to write what you know and that I should write about my heritage. It’s something that is close to my heart.
My parents had an ice cream factory, their parents both ran cafés. Growing up as part of the Italian community in Scotland, I was always around people with shops and cafés, so that inspired the setting.
Can you give a summary of what it is about?
Tally’s Blood is about a woman – Rosinella – who can’t have children. When her sister dies, Rosinella brings her baby daughter – Lucia – back to live with her Italian family in Scotland and brings her up as her own. She absolutely adores the child, and as she grows up, Rosinella struggles with the fact that she will have to let her go her own way.
Rosinella is keen to hold on to her Italian heritage, and, believing Italians to be superior, she displays a bigotry towards Scottish people that has repercussions for other characters in the story.
What does Tally’s Blood mean?
Tally’s Blood was the name given to the raspberry or strawberry sauce on ice cream cones. Ice cream vans of the time were generally operated by Italians – “Tallys”.
When I wrote the play I wanted to call it Pane Perduto (lost bread) a reflection on loving a child that isn’t yours, but I wasn’t sure how the pronunciation would work. I was cautious about calling it Tally’s Blood as Italians don’t like the term, but the title has a good ring to it.
Are the characters based on people that you know or entirely fictional?
As a writer you draw on all the people you know. There are no direct correlations, but I’ve certainly borrowed characteristics from Italian/Scottish people I’ve met over the years. The names of Luigi, Rosinella and Hughie came from our family.
Certainly the situation that Rosinella finds herself in, looking after her late sister’s child is one that I was familiar with growing up.
The story of village elopement in the play, where if parents object to a couple, they are considered married if they stay out for one night together, was an actual tradition in my village in Italy and I know couples who benefitted from the tradition!
How does it feel to see the play revived after 20 years?
It’s exciting to see Tally’s Blood come to life again. Ken directed a wonderful production 20 years ago and I’m very excited to be working with him again. It’s fabulous to be so involved.
How do you think the play’s messages will resonate with today’s audiences?
As a drama, Tally’s Blood is a story that people can relate to on an emotional level.
It deals with serious issues – prejudice, childlessness, immigration – things that are as relevant today as they were when the play was written in 1990.
I hope that people will relate to the characters and the emotional journeys they go on.
Why should people come and see the play?
Firstly, it’s entertaining, it’s full of emotion, but there is laughter in it as well as tears. We’ve got a great cast lined up to bring the characters and story to life, so audiences can expect to learn things and, above all, have a really good night out.
Out of everything I’ve written over the last 30 years, Tally’s Blood is closest to my heart. I have huge affection for it, and I can’t wait to see what Ken and the cast make of it.
How does it feel coming back to direct Tally’s Blood again after 20 years?
It’s a joy to be directing Tally’s Blood again. I’ve been trying for some time to get it off the ground and I’m delighted that Ayr Gaiety, Perth Theatre and Cumbernauld Theatre Company are collaborating on the revival.
I came across the play when it was first performed at the Traverse in 1990 and I came away wanting to find out more about Scottish/Italian culture. It’s an emotional journey, but there is a lot of laughter as well. I stored it away until the first opportunity came to do it at the Byre Theatre and now here I am again. I have a genuine love for the play; its big heart, compelling story and characters.
What will you bring to the current production that you did (or didn’t do!) last time you directed it?
20 years older and with more experience, it’s nice to revisit the play and explore it in a different way.
Making theatre is all about collaboration – actors, designers and other creatives all bring something to it. As a director, it’s about taking the energy and ideas of the room and shaping it; recognising what to leave in and what to take out. We try different things in rehearsal and discover new things about the story and characters together.
It’s about finding the heart of the play and how to make it work now in 2023.
Why is it important to revive the play?
The themes of immigration and prejudice are as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so recently with Brexit and the refugee crisis.
Scotland has always been a mix of cultures. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was a great tradition of Italians travelling northwards to escape difficult economic times in their own country – they were the immigrants of the day. Like today’s refugees, there was suspicion and concern about how they would settle, but Italians are now integral to Scotland – chip shops, cafes, ice cream parlours are accepted as part of our culture. Food and drink are often the way that we discover other cultures. The play reflects on this diversity – from both sides.
What can audiences expect from the show?
A really good night out!
It’s an epic sweep of a story from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.
There’s a lot of humour in it – the Scots/Italian dialect is a delicious mash up that creates some real funny moments.
There are powerful and emotional moments that recall real life situations. During World War II Italy became the enemy, and families frequently found themselves on opposite sides.
Above all, Tally’s Blood has a massive heart, and despite dealing with some really serious issues, it is, fundamentally, a romantic comedy.
Opening at Perth Theatre from Thu 21 – Sat 30 Sep 2023, then touring to: