Caravaggio: Beneath the Darkness
theSpace on the Mile
From 05 August 2017 to 26 August 2017
Review by Graeme Strachan
Whether through good fortune or intention, this play about the final years of Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and his persecution at the hands of the Church, the inquisition and the Knights of Malta is well-timed to correspond with the collection of his work being shown at Edinburgh's National Gallery, focusing on the last few years of his life and his attempts to secure a pardon from the Pope for his involvement in a brawl which led to a death.
Theatre Department has modernised the story in some ways through contemporary costuming and a more than liberal application of modern vulgarity, which fit Caragvaggio's fiery temperament and his, quite possibly lead-poisoning induced, propensities toward violence and rash action.
Much of the play's runtime is concerned with his professional rivalry with Annibale Carracci and his more romantic, if parasitic, relationships with his valet and a prostitute.
The play is a sporadic and flitting piece and, although an interesting performance, one that suffers from a lot of shouting and scene changing that don't need to be there, while the rest is interesting but too sporadic and jumpy to captivate.
And while the actors give their best to the performances, there's a discontinuity to it all which runs throughout, such as the Cardinal who seems played for endless comic relief, contrasting with the towering Alof de Vignacourt, Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, making veiled threats and creating an imposing dread.
The rest of the piece seems content to simply show that Caravaggio was a bit of a drunken egotist, and never says too much beyond that. And while the play will undoubtedly spur those who see it towards viewing the artist's real life work, his genius never quite finds this stage.