Patrick O’Kane returns to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre for the world premiere of Anders Lustgarten’s visceral new play, The Seven Acts of Mercy, to be directed by RSC deputy artistic director Erica Whyman.
Named after Caravaggio’s 1607 painting, the play takes place across a gap of 400 years, between the creation of the masterpiece in Naples in 1606, and present-day Bootle, where a retired dock worker attempts to teach his grandson about the life awaiting him.
Inside an unfinished church, a painting is emerging from the darkness. The Seven Acts of Mercy is Caravaggio’s masterpiece – and his first painting since he killed a man and fled Rome.
As the artist works, he is fuelled by anger, self-loathing and his driving need to create a work that speaks of compassion in a violent world.
In Bootle, after years of economic and political degradation all Leon has left is a book of great works of art. He tries to open the boy’s eyes to the tragedy and beauty of the life he faces. And the boy reciprocates in the only way he knows.
The Seven Works of Mercy, also known as The Seven Acts of Mercy, is a 1607 oil painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, which, to this day, resides in the Church of Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples, for which it was originally commissioned.
The painting, inspired by the Book of Matthew chapter 25 verse 35, depicts seven acts of mercy in traditional Catholic belief: Bury the dead; visit the imprisoned; feed the hungry; shelter the homeless; clothe the naked; visit the sick; refresh the thirsty.
The play features Patrick O’Kane, who returns to the RSC after playing Macbeth in Conall Morrison’s 2007 production, as Caravaggio.
O’Kane’s other theatre performances include Jimmy in Owen McCaffertys’ award-winning play Quietly, The Crucible in Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, and Doctor Faustus at the Manchester Royal Exchange. He has appeared in hit TV shows Game of Thrones (HBO) and The Fall (BBC Two).
Tom Georgeson plays retired dock-worker Leon. Georgeson is known for his roles as D.I. Harry Naylor in Between the Lines (BBC One), and in the Alan Bleasdale TV dramas Boys from the Blackstuff (BBC Two), Scully (Channel 4) and G.B.H. (Channel 4).
His film work includes A Fish Called Wanda, and more recently he has appeared in Ashes to Ashes (BBC One) and Channel 4’s award-winning drama Shameless.
Edmund Kingsley, known for his performances in Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo, and more recently as John Maynard Keynes in Life in Squares (BBC Two), returns to the RSC to play Marchese. He was last on the RSC stage in Marina Carr’s Hecuba (Swan Theatre, 2015), directed by Erica Whyman.
Leon’s grandson, Mickey, is played by 16-year-old Liverpudlian actor T.J. Jones. Jones has previously appeared in Mat Whitecross’ 2012 film Spike Island, about the famous The Stone Roses gig.
Anders Lustgarten, whose searing political plays such as Lampedusa, Black Jesus, and If You Don’t Let Us Dream We Won’t Let You Sleep, have gained him wide critical acclaim, makes his RSC debut.
Lustgarten credited his lifelong admiration of Caravaggio as part of his inspiration to write The Seven Acts of Mercy.
He said: “His desire to tell the truth about the world, and reclaim art for real people motivates my own writing. The aesthetic of his work and his personal violence and self-loathing are intensely theatrical.
“The idea of compassion, which animates The Seven Acts of Mercy and his work in general, is drastically needed in the modern world”.
Further casting for The Seven Acts of Mercy includes: Joe Allen, Sally Bankes, James Corrigan, Lena Kaur, Patrick Knowles, Paul McEwan, Allison McKenzie, Nicky Priest, Paislie Reid, Gyuri Sarossy and Eloise Secker.
The Seven Acts of Mercy plays in rep, in the RSC Swan Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, from November 24-February 10.