Casanova. By Mark Kilmurry. Adapted from the screenplay by Russell T Davies. Directed by Jarrad West. Canberra Repertory Society. Recommended for ages 16 and up. Theatre 3, 3 Repertory Lane, Acton. Preview June 18, then June 19-July 4. Bookings: canberrarep.org.au or 62571950.
Giacomo Casanova's name has become inextricably associated with womanising and scandal. Canberra Repertory Society's production takes a comic look at the life of this legendary figure, as the elderly Casanova reflects on his exploits and his colourful past – including his one true love.
Jarrad West – directing his first show for Canberra Rep – says he's long been a fan of writer Russell T Davies' work, including Doctor Who and Queer As Folk. Casanova began as a 2005 British television series starring David Tennant and Peter O'Toole and was adapted to the stage by the Ensemble Theatre's director Mark Kilmurry in 2008.
While there's obviously a difference in the length and scope between a television series, even a short one, and a play, West says Kilmurry managed to get quite a bit of the original into his script.
"He's written it quite filmically as well, as the story needs to be very flexible. The play is not really set very realistically."
But then that's not inappropriate, as the ageing Casanova (played by Tony Turner) works with his maid Edith (Steph Roberts, who introduced the play to West) to piece together his autobiography. And as they do, it brings back his memories of his younger days (played by Benjamin Russell): of fights with Grimani (Chris Zuber), of his loyal servant Rocco (Riley Bell), and, of course, of women, especially Henriette (Amy Dunham), the one who got away…
Russell, 21, is acting in his first Rep show and isn't fazed at the pressure of being cast as the world's most notorious lover, saying he often feels typecast as a "lover-boy".
Why is this?
"I don't know - everyone just likes my jawline!"
He says. "I haven't had as many romantic conquests as Casanova but I reckon I could give him a run for his money!"
How seriously to take this statement is another matter, since he also says, "One thing Casanova and I have in common is we think it doesn't matter what happens in life, as long as it is a good story."
The real Casanova wrote his famous Story of My Life as an old man while working in his final years as a librarian for a Bohemian count (he died in 1798 at the age of 73). Casanova's autobiography might have been embellished, West says, but by any measure he led an extraordinary life.
He was born in 1725 to actor parents and at 17 lost his virginity to two sisters and was enrolled in a seminary by his mother. Within a month he was expelled when he was discovered in bed with another boy. Then began a life that saw him making his way in the world. working as – among other occupations – a lawyer, doctor, astronomer, astrologer, soldier, gambler and playwright. He was a swashbuckler and a bon vivant, who travelled widely around Europe and was imprisoned several times – for blasphemy, for debts – and suffered many illnesses.
And, of course, he seduced hundreds of women (and, apparently, a few men).
Russell says, "He was a great liar and a con man" as well as a "jack of all trades, master of none" – and in the play the sets, scenes and characters change rapidly as Casanova's memories move around.
"He's trying to relive his life and find order out of disorder."
There's enough material here for several plays and West says Casanova is a romp, full of comedy, incident and intrigue. Given the subject matter, he says, "I think you'd say we're looking at about 16+" in terms of audience age, but he says there's no bare flesh – "we don't need nudity" – but a fair bit of romping and lots of innuendo.
Russell says West did a good job of making the scenes sexy while keeping the actors comfortable and fully clothed.
West last acted for Rep several years ago in And Then There Were None and says it's a "wonderfully organised" company to work with. As well as the cast, he's particularly grateful to costume designer Annie Kay, who's been working on all the frock coats, tights, panniers and corsets to evoke the 18th-century milieu of Casanova.
Russell says, "The costumes look amazing. I've got some extensions to my hair I've got to put in, I'm playing around with it, and a lot of costume changes, but one person has a 15-second constume change in a dress!"