THE GIANT Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
THE POSSIBILITY that a young Michelangelo (John Light) and a middle-aged Leonardo da Vinci (Roger Allam) competed for the right to turn a block of marble into the masterpiece of sculpture that is David, is an intriguing one. So too is the notion that the body on which the statue was modelled belonged to a young quarryman called Vito. Less interesting is the theory that sexuality — or the suppression of it — was the driving force behind Michelangelo’s and da Vinci’s art.
This is the premise on which Antony Sher builds his art history play — that the combination of being gay and celibate fuelled two bodies of work that were obsessed with male bodies. The action is set entirely within a fenced Florentine courtyard, containing the intimidating slab of marble. Sher’s narrator is gruff Old Vito (Richard Moor), who, in order to give us a clue about his place in history, stands naked in the familiar David pose. The unlikely claim seems a lot more plausible when his younger self, played by Stephen Hagan in his debut, takes to the stage.
Hagan — who also gets naked at regular intervals — not only has a body that is something like David’s, but a face that bears a remarkable resemblance to the statue’s.
Yet for all the ambition of his subject, Sher finds little drama in his theme. This might be because the amount of tension that can derived from waiting (for most of the first act) to see who wins the commission to carve David, was always going to be limited.
Without that tension, Gregory Doran’s production reminded me of one of those dramatised TV history lessons cast with great historical figures that somehow diminish their subject. Even the moment when Michelangelo meets Leonardo passes without the hoped-for shiver down the spine.
The actors do a good job (Stephen Noonan’s sinister Machiavelli particularly stands out), but rather like the towering stage version of David, this version of history never quite convinces. And although Sher’s central point about how suppressed sexuality is the font of creativity is well made, it is hardly a universal lesson. After all, Picasso was hardly celibate and he was pretty creative too. ( Tel: 020 7722 9301)
THE BROTHERS SIZE Young Vic, London SE1
OGUN (NYASHA Hatendi) is a mechanic in his late twenties; his younger brother Oshoosi (Obi Abili) has just got out of jail. Ogun fears that Oshoosi will be tempted back into crime by Elegba (Nathaniel Martello-White) with whom he shared a cell. Ogun also fears that the love that binds him with his brother has been weakened by the destructive bond that formed between Oshooshi and Elegba when they were in prison. Orgun is right to be worried.
There is something miraculous about the way in which young American writer Tarell Alvin McCraney has harnessed his theme of competing loyalties. The action is set within and around a chalk circle, with each character serving as narrator and speaking stage directions as well as lines. The effect on McCraney’s play — which is influenced by Nigerian Yoruba tradition — is that you get a sense of a story being told as well as played out.
McCraney’s dialogue crackles with the reclaimed racist language of America’s south. These combative African-American brothers are more likely to call each other “nigga” than use their names. Bijan Sheibani’s flawlessly directed and wonderfully performed production never lets go of a sense of foreboding. But the uplifting moments soar, none higher than when Abili’s Oshoosi sings a version of Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness, performed as a sort of duet with his brother on air drums. ( Tel: 020 7922 2922)
CASANOVA Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
WHAT DO we learn by imagining that the world’s greatest lover was not a man, but a woman? In this entertaining piece written by the poet Carol Ann Duffy, and performed by the physical theatre company Told by an Idiot, the lesson seems to be that, while men leave a trail of discarded and destroyed lovers behind them, women are the ultimate victims of their own lust.
In the title role, Hayley Carmichael is a Piaf-like Casanova. This lover’s tragedy is that every affair is entered into with a trust that is ultimately betrayed. Paul Hunter’s production follows his heroine’s story with a fairytale touch. The plot is set around Casanova’s lusty European odyssey during which she meets Voltaire, Mozart and Goethe who, it is cheekily implied, were each inspired by Casanova to produce their greatest works of art.
As a storyteller, Duffy relies too heavily on the “with-one-bound-shewas-free” method of progressing her narrative. But still, the evening makes its feministic point with a humour that feminism is often accused of lacking. The result is a fun evening of high camp and tragedy. ( Tel: 08700 500 511)