The Seven Acts of Mercy – Anders Lustgarten for RSC

This is a new play for RSC and is a play with two strands. The first strand is that of the artist Caravaggio in Naples painting the Seven Acts of Mercy in the Pio Monte della Misericordia.  The second is a family in Bootle struggling to survive.  The link between the two strands is the painting.

I haven’t seen any of Anders Lustgarten’s other plays and the only other play I’ve seen that Erica Whyman has directed was Hecuba this time last year.

The play is definitely political.  Both strands of the play are about the dispossessed surviving on the margins of society. What I thought was interesting was that, although my partner and I are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, at the interval we both came up with the same word to describe the play; sledgehammer! We, and I think most people who will go to see the play, are intelligent human beings.  We don’t need battering with the message to understand it and we will come back to see more if you treat us like adults and allow us to discern the message from the storytelling.  That said, I felt considerably less battered and more engaged with the play in the second half.

In terms of the staging I really liked the way the pictures were projected onto a screen so we could see what the actors were talking about.  I’m not really familiar with Caravaggio’s work so it was a help to see them.  I thought the setting for the individual scenes were effective but the constant scene shifting I thought got in the way; and the constant unrolling and rolling of the Carragher carpet really got on my nerves towards the end of the play.  As a prop it really didn’t add anything to the the play and, as I said earlier, we’re intelligent people and we can create a run down house from a couple of chairs and a book shelf!

Actors-wise I thought Patrick O’Kane was excellent as Caravaggio.  He portrayed a man trying to paint amends for his rage and violence well.  I’d like to see him in something else in a different type of play to see how versatile he is.

Allison McKenzie, as Lavinia, was much better in this than any of the other parts she has played at RSC this season.  She came alive in this part and showed a level of energy I hadn’t seen before.

Tom Georgeson, TJ Jones and Gyuri Sarossy worked really well as the disfunctional Carragher family.  My favourite bits of the play were when they were having those honest, awkward, emotional conversations that families have when one of the central members knows they are dying.  It rang true and I found it moving.  They were also really funny when talking football.  I’m tempted to buy a copy of the play just so I can read and reread Leon’s description of the various political parties as Premiership football teams.  Exactly the laugh you need when you’re feeling glum about the way world politics is heading.

Of the other actors I felt that Edmund Kingsley, James Corrigan and Lena Kaur were underused.  They must have a lot of sitting around to do and, whilst I’m all for wanting good actors to be employed, wouldn’t it have been better for fewer actors to double up and take on a couple of the smaller roles.

Leon Lopez and Patrick Knowles were good, and Patrick Knowles very funny, as the aspirational thugs Prime and Razor but I really didn’t get the point of their rap/dance just after they’d beaten up Mickey. It seemed as though they’d briefly moved into a different play.  Perhaps that’s an age thing on my part.

The thing that really confused me about the play though, and that we discussed at great length on the way home, is what happened to Anthony Renshaw as “Voice of Hench”?

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