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Casanova

Carol Ann Duffy and Told by an Idiot
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
(2007)

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Everybody has at least some vague ideas about Casanova. Wasn't he some Italian sex maniac from a couple of hundred years ago? Not in this new feminist and feminised version put together by the unusual team of poet Carol Ann Duffy and physical theatre company Told by an Idiot.

Their Casanova is a woman, played by one of the company's founders Hayley Carmichael, under the direction of another, Paul Hunter. This change of gender immediately takes away all preconceptions about the subject and offers many fresh insights into what might have been thought of as a tired and overworked theme.

Designer Naomi Wilkinson backs a large playing space with a three storey, black metallic semicircle like some wall of death or, as an early scene impressively demonstrates, a bullring. With various shapes and spaces cut from it, this setting plays multiple parts commencing as the Venetian prison in which Casanova has been incarcerated but continues to have fun.

On her release, the polymathic heroine begins a picaresque journey across Europe during which she meets many famous men and somehow ends up spending a great deal of time in bed with male and female, sacred and profane.

The "breathtakingly beautiful" Casanova really is a remarkable Everywoman, inspiring the greats of her time including George III, Voltaire and Mozart, each of whom is seduced and delighted by her company just as much as the bonny Glaswegian lassie or fit Newcastle lass.

Apparently the greats are also compelled to plagiarise her work so that, if we are to believe our ears, some of the finest writing and music (obviously Don Giovanni) that we know today originated with Casanova.

The mix can be intoxicating, as Carol Ann Duffy's poetic words combine with some tremendous visual effects and great wit courtesy of Told by an Idiot. The means by which poor Casanova is impregnated with what turns into the most beautiful symbolic child will long live in the memory.

There is a big difference between the traditional view of Casanova as a voracious man who sucks in and spits out poor, defenceless women at a rate of knots and this new vision. The female Casanova is almost as much a victim as the women who fell prey to her male.

By the end of a couple of hours, when the heroine has aged and become a laughing stock in her native city, one feels the kind of sympathy that could never have been anticipated in the opening scene with its writhing, gymnastic mime of sexual congress.

An international company gives Hayley Carmichael good support in a most unusual evening's entertainment. Overall, the poetry and invention delight, although the constant travelling and bedding eventually become repetitive. It might however be argued that this is more of a fault of the original than Carol Ann Duffy or Paul Hunter.

This production was reviewed by Cecily Boys at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, and by Peter Lathan at Northern Stage, Newcastle

Reviewer: Philip Fisher