The real Casanova

His in­famy as an 18th cen­tury Lothario lives on, but a stun­ning new pro­duc­tion about the life of Gi­a­como Casanova by the North­ern Bal­let shows there is so much more to his ex­tra­or­di­nary story, writes RACHEL BULLER

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

Writer Ian Kelly on the truth be­hind the Lothario’s leg­end

THE NAME Gi­a­como Casanova is syn­ony­mous with se­duc­tion, ro­mance and sex­ual ex­ploits.

Yet ac­cord­ing to East Anglian ac­tor and his­to­rian Ian Kelly, who wrote the ac­claimed bi­og­ra­phy about Casanova, that wom­an­is­ing car­i­ca­ture does great dis­ser­vice to a hugely in­tel­lec­tual man who had the most ex­tra­or­di­nary of lives.

This month, the North­ern Bal­let will be at Nor­wich The­atre Royal per­form­ing a new show based on Ian’s book and it prom­ises to be a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into the life of one of the 18th cen­tury’s most con­tro­ver­sial char­ac­ters.

“I am sure he would be ap­palled and be­mused by his con­tem­po­rary rep­u­ta­tion. Tales about his love af­fairs were the first bits of his story pub­lished, but they were never writ­ten for that in­ten­tion, they were his per­sonal sto­ries, just like love is part of most peo­ple’s lives.”

Ian, who lives on the Nor­folk/Suf­folk bor­der, says the project has been the most re­ward­ing thing he has ever worked on.

Com­mis­sioned by the North­ern Bal­let’s artis­tic di­rec­tor David Nixon, Casanova will take au­di­ences through the sen­sual deca­dence of masque and mas­quer­ade in Venice, the party cap­i­tal of 18th cen­tury Europe.

“The bal­let jour­ney has been ut­terly joy­ous and I have learned an aw­ful lot work­ing with the in­cred­i­ble chore­og­ra­pher Ken­neth Tin­dall. It is def­i­nitely the most beau­ti­ful thing I have ever seen on stage and it is very ac­ces­si­ble. It is a joy­ous, ex­u­ber­ant piece of the­atre be­fit­ting of the story.”

Casanova had an ex­tra­or­di­nary life which took him all over Europe, dab­bling in many dif­fer­ent ca­reers – from writer and mu­si­cian to sol­dier and spy. But it was also a life filled

with scan­dal and he was con­fi­dant to many fa­mous char­ac­ters – in­clud­ing Madame de Pom­padour, Voltaire, and Cather­ine the Great.

Ian, who has an im­pres­sive stage and screen ca­reer as a writer and ac­tor, in­clud­ing roles in Down­ton Abbey, Howard’s End and Harry

Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows, says as a keen his­to­rian and bi­og­ra­pher, he was fas­ci­nated by Casanova’s writ­ing.

“I love his­tory and ex­traor­di­nar­ily Casanova pro­vides some of the most in­ter­est­ing writ­ing about so­cial his­tory in the 18th cen­tury. He was a very un­usual writer in that he was big on record­ing the lit­tle de­tails of what was hap­pen­ing in so­ci­ety which no one else both­ered to record. I was con­tin­u­ally sur­prised by his story. I was in­trigued by his in­cred­i­ble math­e­mat­i­cal skill, by his in­ter­est in Kab­balah which got him into trou­ble with the Vene­tian in­qui­si­tion, by his ex­tra­or­di­nary re­la­tion­ships with some of the 18th cen­tury’s most prom­i­nent fig­ures, by the fact that he spoke eight lan­guages. He seemed in­de­fectible, so it is such a sur­prise that he is only re­mem­bered for his sex life.

“There was also a great ten­der­ness with the man and a need for love. His fight with de­pres­sion is also some­thing not re­ally ex­plored be­fore.”

He says adapt­ing the book for the bal­let en­abled them to give a voice to some of the women Casanova en­coun­tered.

“The im­pres­sion of him as sim­ply be­ing a bed­post-notch­ing Lothario is wrong. Many of the women of the 18th cen­tury he tan­gled with were ac­tu­ally im­mensely im­pres­sive and strong. It is their story as well.”

Ian is cur­rently work­ing on a num­ber of pro­jects, in­clud­ing a movie about Men­delssohn’s Mes­siah and a screen­play about Robert Burns. He is also film­ing the film adap­ta­tion of Ian McEwan’s book The Chil­dren

Act with Emma Thomp­son. Ian moved to Eye, near Diss, two years ago with his fam­ily and says he feels in­cred­i­bly set­tled in East Anglia.

“Although I am a bit all over the place with work, it is now def­i­nitely home, the chil­dren are at school here and I love the house – it has links to the 18th cen­tury poet Alexan­der Pope so ob­vi­ously that his­tory im­me­di­ately drew me in.” To mark the open­ing of the bal­let, Ian is host­ing an evening of Vene­tian mu­sic and bal­let at Abbey Hall in Eye on April 3 in aid of lo­cal char­i­ties, which will give guests an in­tro­duc­tion to Casanova’s life, with per­for­mances of mu­sic and ex­cerpts from the bal­let. Tick­ets are £20, see www. tick­et­source.co.uk/eye-com­mu­nity-in­ter­est-group. North­ern Bal­let’s Casanova, April 4 – 8, Nor­wich The­atre Royal; box of­fice 01603 630000; www.the­atreroy­al­nor­wich.co.uk

Ac­tor and writer Ian Kelly Dreda Blow in Casanova, North­ern Bal­let

Above: North­ern Bal­let dancers in Cas­sanova Be­low: Casanova, North­ern Bal­let Bot­tom: North­ern Bal­let’s Casanova at Nor­wich The­atre Royal, with Ken­neth Tin­dall, left, and Ian Kelly

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