Arts / Rep’s raunchy romp with randy Casanova

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Ben Russell as Casanova,centre, and guards Bradley McDowell, left, and Teig Sadhana.
Ben Russell as Casanova, centre, and guards Bradley McDowell, left, and Teig Sadhana.
WE’VE all heard of Don Juan and Casanova, both legendary womanisers. But there’s one crucial difference – Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was a real person, an adventurer who romped his way through the bedrooms of Europe in the mid-1700s.

I’m talking to Jarrad West, the director of Canberra Rep’s next show, “Casanova”. Unusually, it’s a play adapted from a film scripted by Russell T Davies of “Queer as Folk” and “Doctor Who” fame.

“That kind of attracted me to it,” West says. “I liked Mark Kilmurry’s adaptation, it was light and fun.” So when Rep offered him a list to choose from, he went for it.

I’ve contacted West after receiving an enthusiastic email from his production manager, Marya Glyn-Daniel, about how the actors were all “horsing around”.

Yes, indeed, West confirms, in particular, there are some very familiar faces in the show who are having the time of their lives. Specifically people such as Geoffrey Borny, Liz Bradley and Tony Turner – “the old work horses,” he says.

What is more, West adds mysteriously, “I’ve gone very meta.”

Because the play notionally whizzes around Venice, Paris, England and Naples, he’s located it in the fictional “Teatro Tre” with the actors illustrating the unreliable memoirs of the old Casanova (Turner). It is, of course, actually being staged at Theatre 3, Acton.

More horsing around. Costume designer Anne Kay has played around with old ballroom gowns for the different characters and veteran set-man Russell Brown built a complete boat on wheels overnight when West floated the idea.

In casting the central role of the young Casanova, West was lucky. Fellow-director Jordan Best recommended Ben Russell, “a 21-year-old with a cocky, lopsided grin you’d like to punch him in the face for and a lot of charisma” – just right.

West has his doubts about the “facts” in the play but he’s not worrying too much about it, because “this is a much better story”.

We do know that the real-life Casanova started his sexual adventures when he was 17 and he died in 1798, so he enjoyed himself for nearly 50 years. And did he swing both ways? “Yes, there were a few men along the way,” West says, “but that is not referenced.”

Is it too raunchy for respectable Rep audiences?

“To be honest I’m a little bit worried,” West tells me, but there’s no nudity and while sex scenes are simulated, nothing is explicit. “It’s an M15+ rating, I’d say.”

“Casanova”, Theatre 3, Acton until July 4, Bookings to canberrarep.org.au or 6257 1950.

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