Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for us
A CurtainUp London Review
On the Ceiling
by Neil Dowden
In what is basically a two-hander, the premise is that a couple of artisans, the master plasterer Lapo (Ron Cook) and his apprentice Loti (Ralf Little), provide the professional expertise which enables Michelangelo to put into practice his grand artistic ideas for painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican. (At that stage, Michelangelo was celebrated more as a sculptor than a painter.) These unsung heroes, apparently based on real people,- do all the graft while Michelangelo gains all the glory.
It's a nice conceit, a sideways look at the creation of one of the great masterpieces of Western art, from the point of view of the forgotten "little men" in the shadows of history -- a sort of Renaissance art equivalent of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. But unlike Stoppard, Planer, in attempting to write a comedy with some serious thoughts behind it, falls between two stools. Despite some funny moments, this is not laugh-out-aloud stuff, and although the idea that art is often a collaborative process is pertinent, it's not enough to sustain a whole play.
The banter between the two craftsmen as they mix paints and wait for Michelangelo (whom they call "Millie" as they ridicule his camp pretentiousness, and who, Godot-like, never turns up), is pretty inconsequential. To misquote Eliot, "In the room the men come and go/Talking of Michelangelo."
There are allusions to famous people and events, such as Michelangelo's rival Raphael and the invasion of Italy by the French, but anything interesting happens off-stage. There is no dramatic tension in the play, so the evening just jogs along in a rather pedestrian way. The short scene after the interval, where Lapo and Lodi perform a comic song about how unfairly they've been treated, is simply a mistake. The closing scene with Pope Julius II -- who commissioned Michelangelo -- and a cardinal falls flat.
The rapport between the two workmen is well established in Jennie Darnell's production. Ron Cook's cynical but dedicated Lapo has the world-weary look of a man who knows he is never going to get the credit he deserves but is determined to do his job as well as he can. In contrast, for Ralf Little's young, na´ve and likeable Loti the priorities are getting plastered and getting laid rather than plastering and laying out frescoes.
Designer Matthew Wright's scaffolding set is highly effective, while Neil Austin's digital lighting effects at the end give some impression of the Sistine Chapel ceiling's grandeur -- but by then it is far too late for a play that remains firmly on the ground level.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.