Last Updated on September 20, 2020 by Lucy Foxell
The world premiere of new comedy starring Haydn Gwynne and James Corrigan
After months and months of being starved of going to the theatre, it was with huge delight that I went along to see the outdoor (COVID restriction adhering) performance of the premiere of Renaissance in the beautiful gardens of the Grade ll listed Stephens House and Gardens in Finchley. A simple circular platform stage nestled amongst the trees, adorned with strings of lights sets the scene.
The production has been blessed with a cast of class A actors, four of whom were working at the National Theatre when lockdown was announced: Haydn Gwynne, James Corrigan, and Akshay Sharan and Bethan Cullinane. Haydn Gwynne and James Corrigan have also been members of the RSC ensemble with Hannah Morrish and Bethan Cullinane.
“As this play is all about re-birth and identity, it feels like exactly the right project for this moment. It’s written as deliberately as ‘high style’, and therefore works brilliantly for outdoor performance.
Due to Covid-19, this project has, of course, faced a series of unique challenges, but conversely, we’ve been given a chance to assemble an extraordinary company of actors that we would most likely never had access to in normal times.
Because of these combining factors, I think I’m right in saying that we’re lucky enough to be one of the very few pieces of new writing to be premiered in the UK this September. Directing a socially distanced production with a play where everyone is trying to get close to everyone else has been an original experience, but we’ve had a very enjoyable rehearsal process exploring that, and it very much helps that the two actors who have to kiss on stage are in the same bubble off stage”.
Emma Butler (Director)
This sharp-witted play, written by Charles Ward is based on the fact that for a short time in 1502 Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Cesare Borgia all lived under the same roof. The mystery of their alliance has been intriguing historians for centuries.
Ward has used a combination of history and fanciful notions to create a colourful and entertaining comedy that has re-imagined the interplay between these charismatic and masterly men.
Borgia Cesare was the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, a Spanish – Italian politician, whose fight for power was a major inspiration for ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli.
Here Borgia, who is played with an infectious charm by Corrigan, is tired of his responsibilities, he can no longer take the pressure of ruling, “why is it all so bland?” so longing to escape, he cuts a cunning plan and appoints a little-known politician called Machiavelli, played with a pompous spirit by Nicholas Limm, to rule in his place. Borgia envies the simplicity of an artists’ life so he decides to disguise himself as an artist in his own court.
Meanwhile, Leonardo da Vinci brought to life with an engaging performance by Akshay Sharan, is also overwhelmed by the pressures of life and that of being an artist, and so in order to escape the painter’s world, he decides to reinvent himself and arrives at the court cloaked in the role of a politician.
The court, however, is not complete, Bethan Cullinane plays the feisty Caterina Sforza, an Italian noblewoman who is both bold and impetuous. She provides a love interest for Borgia. Haydn Gwynne makes a magnificent ‘grande dame’ art collector Isabella d’Este. Preened and imperious her willowy frame wafts in and attempts to put the court in its place. I particularly enjoyed Hannah Moorish’s performance as Lucrezia Borgia, Borgia’s sister. Lucrezia historically was famed for her beauty and was known to be the mistress of her father the pope. Here she gender-swaps in order to infiltrate the court and manages to give an amusing contemporary twist to the classic ‘femme fatale’.
Renaissance is a light-hearted comedy, a fictional fantasy that flows rhythmically in rhyming verse, exploring the predicaments and confusion caused by a series of disguises.
Director Emma Butler’s production is a total breath of fresh air, after months of lockdown, it was perfectly lovely to be sitting in a romantic setting underneath the tress in socially distanced bubbles watching some very fine acting on a late summers evening. I hope that other productions will follow in their footsteps and find a way to bring the theatre back to life.
Outdoor performance at the Grade ll listed Stephens House and Gardens, Finchley N3 3QE
Dates:17th -20th September
With plans for an extended run, COVID rules and weather permitting
An outdoor performance Venue: Stephens House and Gardens, 17 E End Road, Finchley, London, N3 3QE Times: 19.30 // Matinees Sat 19th; Sun 20th Sept 2.30pm