From Naples 1606 to Bootle near Liverpool 2016 – from food banks and bedroom tax to a painter’s genius and demons spans the bridge that is brought together in an emotionally exhausting, gripping play.
Caravaggio has just fled from Rome where he is wanted for murder. A church in Naples and a commission to paint the Seven Acts of Mercy become his sanctuary.
In present day Bootle, a young boy and his dying grandfather are only just getting by, until the disastrous consequences of austerity are being handed down to them.
It is a stroke of genius by playwright Anders Lustgarten to subtly and unpretentiously draw on the 7 Acts of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, comfort the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead), including the related sensitivities – in the light of the current political and social climate – as a lifeline for crumbling communities.
The edge-of-the-seat feeling remains strong throughout the play. Fun moments and thrown in edification in art history can only momentarily divert from the sensation of sitting on a dangerously vibrating tectonic fault.
Violent but defenceless, raw as if flayed is Patrick O’Kane’s breathtaking rendition as Caravaggio, a character that won’t let you go.
His model and kind of friend, prostitute Lavinia, a tough job superbly performed by Allison McKenzie, fences on a very tight rope, vulnerable, proud and scorching.
Further in Naples: Edmund Kingsley as the Marchese, in a delicate portrayal of one of the very few balanced characters in the play. Or is he?
And then James Corrigan as Vincenzo … to be found out.
In Bootle, Tom Georgeson as Grandpa Leon is a deeply touching character trying to pass on hope in hopeless times and he poignantly depicts pride and loss of a worker’s life.
Incredibly talented, young TJ Jones as Mickey carries most of the current day action, and he does it with an ease that would make an old hand proud.
As scary henchmen, Leon Lopez and Patrick Knowles: sardonic and weirdly funny, in true Pulp Fiction tradition.
Further in Bootle: Gyuri Sarossy as Mickey’s father Lee: an achingly torn figure; Paul McEwan as Damian, recently arrived on the losing end; Paislie Reid and Nicky Priest as Siblings Jennifer and Danny; Lena Kaur as Karen, officiating for the battered Council; Sally Bankes as Sandra at the food bank; Eloise Seeker as Emily, the Labour representative.
A spirited and passionate ensemble play, directed by Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman.
The set design is yet another subtle thought amplifier by Tom Piper.
Music by Isobel Waller-Bridge.
From 24th November 2016 to 10th February 2017 at the RSC Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon
Photos by Ellie Kurttz © RSC
More information: https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-seven-acts-of-mercy