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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Hampstead Theatre

By Michael Leech

This new play actually takes on three giants - Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci - and Michelangelo's great statue of David It seems a colossal subject and I wondered if it could be brought to meaningful life? After all it is such a famous and well known epic. It's a real success however, and should be destined for campus productions everywhere, for it does succeed very neatly, making for a most satisfying original event, well directed, well written, and most evocatively designed too.

A large block of flawed white marble, from the quarries of Carrara in western Italy, is brought to Florence to be carved and turned into - what? For some time nobody knew what to do with it, so the municipality approached both artists to see if either could free the David within to stand upon one of the city's cathedral towers. The former won of course, and slowly and laboriously Michelangelo begins, using Vito, a beautiful local youth (Stephen Hagan) as model. As the golden boy when grown old, a senior Vito (Richard Moore ) acts as a sort of chorus. This device soon bores unfortunately - why not use a different view? Also it shouldn't matter, but it does, that the otherwise compelling young Vitom has a hard-edged Northern Irish accent.

William Dudley's design is elegant, and the wide stage of this relatively new theatre is a particularly good open frame for the tale. And yes, the statue is duplicated as if slowly emerging from its marble cloak. Lighting gives a sense of Italian opulence too. There is one telling scene when both sexually susceptible artists stand over his nude form to confer dispassionately about Vito's body and this extraordinary project. Three years pass, and eventually the masterpiece takes its place, not on the cathedral but at the heart of the city's famous piazza. It now stands in the Galleria, a copy is on the square.

Despite the fact that once the winner is selected the story loses pace and Leonardo leaves (to return later when the work is well advanced) it does continue to compel. Michelangelo (a rugged artisan as played by John Light ) toils under a concealing curtain as his young model marvels at his own image. Leonardo (Roger Allam) comes back to comment when the David is almost finished.

The story is engrossing as always, and this version holds the attention. Well worth catching if you can it's on a limited run. As a very well-made play by actor Antony Sher, and finely staged by Gregory Doran, it is both straightforward and compact. A few more details about the two amazing protagonists would be good though. The acting matches up but it's a shame that with such a luminous subject the writing has so little poetry. It truly needs it.


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