The Living Paper Cartoon returns to Edinburgh

Ennio Marchetto designs his costumes. Picture: Jane Barlow
Ennio Marchetto designs his costumes. Picture: Jane Barlow
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WHAT do Marilyn Monroe, the Mona Lisa, and Alex Salmond have in common?

Head to the Pleasance this Fringe and you will find out. One man, Ennio Marchetto, the “living paper cartoon”.

Picture: Jane Barlow

Picture: Jane Barlow

The 54-year-old Venetian first came to the Capital in 1989, an unknown entertainer... he left a star.

Relaxing in the living room of his Mestre home, just outside Venice, where he was born and brought up, the performer is excited, as he recalls how that first visit to the city went from being a nightmare, to one of the best moments of his life.

“Edinburgh was important for me the first time I did the Fringe because it opened up opportunities to play all around the world,” he says. “Before doing the Fringe, I had only ever played in Italy.

“But the first week was not easy.”

An understatement, if ever there was one. Playing a tiny, empty venue, Marchetto was ready to pack his costumes and head home when a newspaper feature changed everything.

“Then there was an article in a paper... and we just sold out,” he says, with an air of incredulity that suggests he still finds it hard to believe. He’s not stopped working since.

Marchetto’s act is simple, more than 60 quick changes in 60 minutes, all accompanied by music, which he mimes to, while wearing intricate costumes made entirely of paper.

But he didn’t always dress in paper. Originally his costumes were material and plastic, with no quick changes – then he dreamed of Marilyn Monroe.

At the time he was working in a mask shop in Venice, making costumes for the Carnival.

He takes up the tale, “I was 21 and already doing little shows. Then I dreamed of Marilyn, she was walking into the clouds wearing a paper costume. I woke up and cut the first costume there and then.

“For the next six years Marilyn was the only character I did with a paper costume. Then I realised it was time to do another paper costume.”

French chanteuse Edith Piaf and opera stars Maria Callas and Pavarotti followed. Then Marchetto met his now long-time collaborator Sosthen Hennekam, who began designing the costumes and gags.

“Sosthen was a fashion designer, and we started to work together on the act. When we realised how original the paper costumes were we decided to stay with just paper and build costumes that could change from one character into another, and another.”

Even after 25 years – “I never thought I’d be doing it this long,” Marchetto confesses – people are still coming to see the show.

“It’s very simple, just me, music, paper and a lot of irony.

“We have to think about new characters all the time. We watch videos of them. It is important for me, because I have to see the picture of the new character in my head. I have to learn how they behave, how they move when they are talking.

“We always ask producers from the country we are going to, which character is in the spotlight there at the time. Then we try to add them into the show.”

His latest Fringe visit sees Alex Salmond joining Marchetto’s long list of caricatured creations.

“My last character is always my favourite, and at the moment it’s Alex Salmond,” he admits. “But the Mona Lisa is a long favourite too. It has always been in the show. I don’t think I could take it out now.

“In fact, that was the costume I wore when I appeared in the Festival Cavalcade on my first visit.”

Having appeared at two Royal Variety Performances, Marchetto has performed in more than 70 countries worldwide, but it’s rare to catch him in the UK these days. Make sure you do at the Pleasance.

Ennio Marchetto: The Living Paper Cartoon, Pleasance One, until 15 August, 10.30pm, £8-£14, 0131-556 6550