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Caravaggio was one of the most famous Italian painters of the 15th and 16th centuries. This new biographical play about the final years of his life combines, like his paintings, light and darkness, along with a manic energy that infuses both his life and his work as he runs from the law.

The action begins in Rome, and follows the painter's journey to Naples – where he hides briefly in his rival Carracci’s studio – and then on to Malta. Alex Marchi’s performance as Caravaggio is compelling, with strong use of language, bringing out the painter’s giftedness and his madness. Proving a perfect foil is the character of Alof de Wignacourt, who is the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta.

Caravaggio is hoping that, if he fulfils Wignacourt’s painting requests, he will be knighted and thus pardoned for his crime. But Fate has other plans, and despite help from Cardinal Del Monte, escape seems hard to find. With events including knights, a prostitute and muse, and the valet-lover Francesco, there is a lot of dramatic action on stage that helps drive some of the script.

However, it is hard work trying to understand a number of aspects of the play. We aren’t told the nature of Caravaggio’s crime until halfway through the show. The earlier scenes include a lot of dialogue before coming to the point, and I spent too much time at a loss before getting a grip on the storyline.

Granted, there is a lot of material to cover (as I have discovered upon research), but the lay audience member who isn’t intimately familiar with the later life of the artist may struggle with the writing. And there were some glitches in the scene changes, with the lights sometimes coming back up before the actors seemed ready. This is a debut production though, and I’m impressed by the amount The Theatre Dept. has achieved; there is definite potential here.

So, slightly difficult going, but nevertheless a good show about an incredibly famous and important artist. And if you are already familiar with his paintings or his life story, you are sure to enjoy this production.