Any preconceptions about the rarefied world of the artist, painting religious imagery in a glow of transcendental ecstasy, are swiftly blasted by a brief acquaintance with the life of Caravaggio.
Street brawler, brothel frequenter and general wild boy about town, he was nevertheless the medium for a genius unsurpassed in his era and beyond.
Those who had to live with him and tolerate his excesses were repaid by work of such genius that the efforts of his contemporaries, with their simpering Madonnas and politically correct saints, faded into insignificance.
Among his long-suffering patrons was Rome’s Cardinal del Monte, who came to the rescue on many occasions with commissions, connections and completely ignored good advice.
This excellent play, written and directed by Tom Butler, takes the last few turbulent years of Caravaggio’s life and tells it in all its glory and gory violence. With no set and the only props a few blank easels and an ornate chair, it is astonishing how the cast convey the light and dark – mostly dark – of the artist’s life.
Alex Marchi is the tousle-haired genius himself and Richard Unwin the urbane Cardinal and the tale speeds along on its self-destructive path.
When Caravaggio flees Rome after an unfortunate street stabbing, he first finds refuge in Malta with the creepily feline De Wignacourt, head of the all-powerful Knights of St John, perfectly played by Michal Nowak. The ambience between the artist and the aristocrat quickly shifts from mutual flattery to downright animosity – and our troubled hero is again on the run for his life.
Coincidentally, there is a wonderful Caravaggio exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery until September. So after seeing this play, walk down the Mound and marvel at the legacy this street- fighting man has left the world.