Runs until 10th February 2017
Anders Lustgarten’s new play, The Seven Acts of Mercy, was an overwhelmingly average performance. The storyline had all of the makings of a truly interesting script. The play begins in Naples, 1606, where Caravaggio (Patrick O’Kane) is working on his masterpiece ‘The Seven Acts of Mercy’, funded by Marchese (Edmund Kingsley), and befriended by Lavinia (Allison McKenzie). This storyline is then juxtaposed with modern-day Bootle, Merseyside where terminally ill Leon Carragher (Tom Georgeson) is looking after his teenage grandson Mickey (TJ Jones) and teaching him life principles by looking at art, in particular Caravaggio’s iconic The Seven Acts of Mercy. Interspersed with these key storylines were smaller, one scene acts, which aren’t really worth the mention. Unfortunately, too much was going on, resulting in a cumbersome story with too many forgettable subplots to care about.
The scenes in Bootle were just overdone. There was a penchant for overacting shared by the entire cast, which led to under-developed relationships with uncomfortable, profanity-riddled dialogue on more than one occasion. It seems that no one taught either the actors or the playwright the subtle art of ‘show, don’t tell’, because by telling the audience explicitly the meaning behind every nuance, they just patronised and created an atmosphere of general disinterest. More than this, though, it felt almost as if they were attempting to address some of the bigger issues facing society (gender, class, politics, and race). In doing so, the subjects felt shoehorned into the two and a half hours of the play, so they only really received a cursory glance. Issues of that scale and nature deserve more airtime than they were granted, rather than simply a gratuitous mention. An issue that director Erica Whyman should have been primed to address.
“wooden rhetoric being spewed with no real interest or conviction”
As artistic director of this piece, Whyman was in prime position to really steer the performance in the right direction. Instead, The Seven Acts of Mercy felt rudderless and adrift. Instead of being a brave exposé or politically motivated play, it felt like wooden rhetoric being spewed with no real interest or conviction. While Lustgarten’s script obviously did Whyman no favours, she also failed to translate a complicated, multi-layered piece, into an accessible and easy to follow plot.
The one saving grace was O’Kane’s gruff Caravaggio. The Naples’ storyline had more subtlety in its deliverance, though it was still prone to explicitly spelling out their every intention. The first act was very much about the character development of Lavinia and Caravaggio, exploring how their trust and confidence with each other grew, the chemistry between O’Kane and McKenzie was lovely to see. Sadly, this was all dashed in the second act where she returned only briefly, and as such, O’Kane’s despair merely read as whiny and petulant rather than genuine anguish. Luckily, Kingsley’s Marchese was there to take up the mantle as the calming presence for O’Kane to rail against. Aided by Tom Piper’s design, this plotline was one of the more skilfully handled parts of the play. Caravaggio’s paintings were projected on a moving screen in such a beautiful way that really works and brings the paintings to life, and incorporated them into the play in a fashion that managed to draw the two storylines together; a feat the acting truly could not achieve.
The Seven Acts of Mercy was, simply put, disappointingly underwhelming. It had an intriguing political premise, but it failed to reach that holy grail of interesting without purely preaching. O’Kane carried the first half of the play, but seemed to labour under the weight of it by the time the second act came around. Perhaps the actors thought that, if they shouted loud enough, they could produce a decent script, or even find a plot in the mess of lines. Really, the first true act of mercy this play gave the audience was by ending, and not prolonging the utterly disappointing conclusion where nothing was really resolved.
Image: Ellie Kurttz RSC