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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Giant
Hampstead Theatre      Autumn 2007

Antony Sher's new play deals with the creation of Michelangelo's David, the title referring to the great slab of marble that lay around Florence for decades until an artist could be found to tackle it.

Drawing on the historical fact that Leonardo da Vinci was also in Florence around that time (though we only know of one brief meeting of the two), as was Machiavelli (who certainly knew Leonardo), and that the hellfire preacher Savonarola had just died, Sher freely imagines meetings and interconnections.

And I have no real idea of what his play is about.

Sher imagines a young stonecutter, whose older self narrates the play in a clumsy frame, as Michelangelo's model for David and eventually the subject of the lusts and loves of both artists.

But both have sworn celibacy, Michelangelo as a follower (says Sher) of Savonarola, Leonardo because desire gets in the way of his devotion to science and art.

So nobody actually touches anybody else, Michelangelo eventually finishes the statue, and everyone goes their separate ways.

Sher doesn't give us much insight into either artist, nor into the nature and process of art, nor (even though there's a lot of background detail) into the political and social world that somehow generated the Renaissance.

We are told a lot of facts, in a prose which is (surprisingly for an actor-author) overwritten and stodgy, but we're not actually told anything.

The closest Sher comes to insight is the recognition that there is some connection - though he isn't sure whether it is supportive or obstructive - between sex and art, and also that great art can be born out of the most mundane impulses.

The City Fathers who commission the statue don't want a masterpiece, just a political symbol, a warning to potential enemies not to mess with Florence, while the artist sees it above all as a paying job.

John Light makes Michelangelo the artist-as-craftsman-and-labourer, never hinting at inspiration or fey artiness, but simply a man working very hard at a hard job.

Roger Allam's Leonardo is both more intellectual and more political, able to explain what he's doing as an artist and what fascinates him about it.

Stephen Hagan as the model and Richard Moore as his older self work hard, but are unable to disguise the fact that they are more plot devices than characters.

Stephen Noonan is a wry Machiavelli, and Philip Voss has some nice moments doubling as the philistine politician who commissions the statue and as the sculptor's father, who has no appreciation or understanding of his son's genius.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -of The Giant - Hampstead Theatre 2007


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