Sixteenth century Florence; a town of political intrigue, sexual ambiguity, zealous religion and the birthplace of the world’s most famous statue, Michelangelo’s David. Antony Sher’s new play The Giant concerns the commissioning and creation of the latter while touching on the former. Matthew Amer was at the Hampstead for the first night.
A fog of dust coats the air of the Hampstead auditorium, hanging suspended across the stage, which is dominated, in William Dudley’s design, by a huge block of marble, yet to be carved, and the tower in which the creation of an icon will take place. Before chisel has even touched rock, the block is an imposing structure, full of life, as demonstrated by the young quarryman Vito (Stephen Hagan), who has gone to Florence to seek his fortune.
As is often the case, Vito’s plans do not entirely come to fruition, but before he knows it he has met both Leonardo and Michelangelo, becoming the latter’s model, and the source of an infatuation for both.
Sher, one of Britain’s great Shakespearean actors, takes his writing prompt from the Bard, using historical truth as merely a starting point from which to weave his drama, which explores the sexual politics of Florence and the source of creativity.
Leonardo and Michelangelo are two very different artists. The first, played by Roger Allam, has little concern with winning major commissions and is bored with the fame his talent has brought him. Instead he strives to understand the intricacy of flight and to rekindle his sexual excitement with the help of Vito. By contrast John Light’s Michelangelo is passionate to the point of barely being in control, so easy to spur into anger and with deeply held religious convictions in a city of sinners.
The Giant of the title could so easily refer to the statue, either artist, or the politician Machiavelli (the sleazy Stephen Noonan) who, like all good politicians, spins and turns everything that happens to his advantage.
The giant runs at the Hampstead until 1 December.