Hampstead Theatre (venue)
26 October 2019 (released)
26 October 2019
This is a production that will undoubtedly divide opinion of audiences and critics alike. It is packed with so many carefully chosen visuals and themes that it takes time to fully appreciate the quality and impact of this production.
It is clearly established, from the opening monologue by Botticelli (Dickie Beau), that what we are about to see, is his own particular take on Florence and the history of the time leading up to the 'Bonfire of the Vanities'. His casting is crucial to the portrayal of Botticelli in this surreal version of History, and his performance is mesmerising.
We see through Botticelli's eyes and actions, a Florence in flux. The Medici rule is about to collapse as a firebrand form of Christianity led by Girolamo Savonarola (Howard Ward) rises. Around this time, and particularly in Florence, sodomy was prevalent. It was seen a natural transition to sexual awareness and adulthood in men. With the rise of a fascist form of Christianity, this act, was then to become criminalised.
It is a recorded fact that Botticelli, in this period, burnt and destroyed several of his works, alongside a growing acceptance of Christianity. This has inspired Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill to question why he might do such an extreme thing. What was at stake in his life? Why such a drastic change? Through his writing, he shows us a world with Botticelli obsessed with sex and art. He is in the process of painting his most famous work , "The Birth of Venus", whilst bedding his model Clarice Orsini (Sirine Saba) the wife of Lorenzo De Medici (Adetimiwa Edun). Lorenzo has commissioned the painting, not knowing the lengths and liberties that are being taken . Botticelli is also becoming completely infatuated with his talented apprentice Leonardo Da Vinci (Hiran Abeysekera) . Neither of these actually happened, but the fact that they could have fuels the events of the play.
It makes for an unnerving and thought provoking experience. Parallels with current world politics and levels of non-acceptance and persecution are abundant, with the mix of modern day and 15th Century, highlighting this.
There is so much to enjoy in this world where the body is celebrated through obsession, nudity and danger. The outright comedy, at the beginning, merges and then morphs into bizarre moments and then deeply moving tragedy. Blanche McIntyre's direction and vision for the piece, with designers James Cotterill and Joanna Town, is excellently handled, with some clever references to other paintings through poignant moments of the play.
Though not perfect, an example being, the developing relationship of Botticelli and Da Vinci needing more stage time and frisson in the early scenes, there is a lot to admire in this play.
Breakfast will never be the same again. I never realised, how sexually charged, the licking of peanut butter off a knife could be.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan