Master of a bizarre comic dimension
Ennio Marchetto makes a mystical Michelin man, a plumper-than-Pav pop-up three tenors, a suitably sickly Celine Dion . . . and he has spent a decade as the Mona Lisa, lip-synching 'I am your Venus', and leering in a gold paper frame.
'I have to say I am a little tired of Mona,' the Italian comedian said when I met him for a coffee in the bar of the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith last week, before he strutted his paper stuff to an enthusiastic London crowd.
'But the audiences love her, so she is still there after all those years,' he shrugged.
Marchetto's eccentric, delightful show - a sort of mix between Priscilla Queen Of The Desert and Wallace And Gromit, with paper costumes making a one-man cast of hundreds - is the final element in Hong Kong's Autumn Fun Festival.
He is playing from November 30 to December 5: the show was to have continued to December 6 but the British royal family pipped the SAR's Sunday audience, with a request last week for him to appear at the annual Royal Variety Show.
Anyone with tickets for the Sunday is asked to call the hotline for refunds or exchanges. A late-night Friday show has been added in its place.
Will Marchetto do his 'Queen' act in which Queen Elizabeth metamorphoses into Freddie Mercury? 'No,' he said. 'I think that is too much for the Royal Variety Show . . . I think they think it's too much.' I had seen his show the previous night, and met a representative of his management company. 'What's Ennio like?' I had wondered. 'He sleeps a lot' was the answer. And indeed when we were introduced briefly, Marchetto was reclining on a bed in his dressing room.
He opened an eye, and sleepily smiled his clown's grin, slowly uncurling to shake hands. Minutes later on stage, he was a super-energetic Godzilla metamorphosing into Judy Garland. Lizard, wizard . . . the confusion is exactly the kind of word/image play Marchetto revels in.
Without the heavy lipstick, Marchetto seems a straightforward, almost shy man. 'I am quite quiet,' he said, saying his favourite pastimes are gardening and cooking pasta.
'Even though when you have seen me on stage you might not believe it.' The story of how Marchetto first thought of performing in paper is a favourite of his - 'and it's true'. He was working in his father's business, repairing coffee machines, when one day he hallucinated that a paper Marilyn Monroe was hovering over him. So he created her, a paper costume, complete with trim white underwear revealed in a fake Hollywood gust, 'and it all started from there'.
Marilyn is still part of the show, although as he said, the breasts were different then. They did not bounce from the top to the bottom, they wobbled from side to side.
'In reviews they said I am obsessed by breasts,' he grinned. 'But I just make funny things out of paper.' Coffee repair man metamorphoses into sexy film starlet and becomes an award-winning performance artist . . . it is the kind of hallucinogenic transformation that could come straight out of his own show.
The reality was not, of course, quite that simple. Marchetto is Venetian, and the customs of that ancient city of glass, canals and masked balls, were part of his growing up.
'Now it is quite boring - masked balls are more for the tourists and . . .' - Marchetto paused while he made a suitably horrified face - 'and people actually hire costumes.' He spent 10 years working for a mask shop in Venice: 'I always used rubbish - plastic, metal and, of course, paper.' It was during his first tour of Europe with Marilyn and about 10 other costumes, in 1988, that Dutch fashion designer Sosthen Hennekam saw the show by accident, agreed to help out on some of the trickier technical bits, and never left.
Designing two-dimensional clothing is quite a different challenge, said Hennekam. Part of the joy of the show is the surprise when one character becomes another with the flick of a Velcro strip - and it is the transformations that are most difficult.
'It is not a very good show for TV,' Hennekam said. 'When you lose a dimension from two dimensions it doesn't leave you much,' he joked.
They communicate in Italian.
'My English is not good enough for big arguments,' Marchetto added. He suddenly had an idea about Barbra Streisand, whose nose had presented some technical issues in the politically incorrect show. The two talked rapidly, using hand movements. Barbra sorted, we resumed the interview.
Marchetto's favourite act is always the most recent, he said. Although he makes an exception for Celine Dion. The act is a highlight: singer turns into the Titanic, from which two paper dolls act out the Leo and Kate flying buttress moment. But Celine? 'Uggh, she is so fake, she makes me feel ill,' said Marchetto. 'Most people think the same, which is why it gets such a laugh.' His inspiration was a mix of Disney, mime king Lindsey Kemp - with whom he trained - and German choreographer Pina Bausch. 'I was crazy about her work.' It was not Bausch's politics, but the sheer joy of her visual imagery that attracted him.
Is Marchetto political? After all, some British reviewers deconstructed his Dolly Partons and Teletubbies, and found social commentary crouching beneath the comedy.
'Not me!' he said. 'I just do funny things, I don't have any political vision at all.' Ennio Marchetto, Nov 30 to Dec 5, 8.15pm; Dec 4 10.30, Dec 5, 3pm. APA Drama Theatre. Tickets $250-$450, students $120. Tel: 2734-9009 or 2805-2804 Victoria Finlay flew courtesy of Virgin Atlantic