Sher dis­ap­points

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Books -

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)

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