Renaissance Men follows Irvine (Sam Heron), a young lad with a desire to write. Through his writing he expresses personal suffering, and is clearly struggling to find his identity. Heron’s character choices are clear and at times very moving, while elsewhere they do seem slightly irrational. However, it would be unfair to try to deny that Heron is a very talented young actor with plenty of potential.
The plot thickens when Irvine’s friends Quentin (Alexander Knott) and Winston (James Demaine), two high-energy art school alumni burst into Irvine’s flat, which is apparently a regular occurence, and declare that they have found an original painting from the Renaissance in their local British Heart Foundation. They dream of what they could accomplish if the painting, post-examination, was indeed an an original. They manage to persuade Irvine, who is the only one of them with any money, to lend them the funds to test the painting and join the enterprise. What develops is a tale of betrayal, a lot of booze and manipulation.
Knott’s Quentin is explosive as he bursts through Irvine’s flat door like a spark chasing a fuse. He rarely stops bouncing off the walls throughout the entirety of the play, which potentially jeopardises some moments of clarity and tension within the piece. But nevertheless, his fast-paced dialogue and witty text, combined with his great comic timing makes him a joy to watch and easy to empathise with. Yet, the early conversation with Demaine is dubiously rushed, and I expect they aren’t listening to each other as well as they should.
Demaine’s portrayal of Winston is initially wobbly, and has a similar energy to Quentin, but with little shaky vocal support or contrast in speech intonations. This could, however, be due to Winston’s character having less to do within the beginning of the piece, as Quentin is clearly the driving force. There is a very nice relationship powerplay throughout, which Demaine explores brilliantly, finding the nuances and sensitivity.
Upon the entrance of Mr Sutcliffe (Jack Gogarty) the relationships in the room shift. As a slightly older man and professional art collector, Mr Sutcliffe has the boys’ immediate respect. Similarly, Gogarty’s presence is established very quickly with his slow movements and deep, almost sinister, deep vocal qualities. Gogarty’s gaze is convincingly manipulative and is the most authentic character on the stage.
Direction by Ryan Hutton, in collaboration with the company, Renaissance Men is hard to find fault in. The world of the play is immersive and colourful and with a bigger venue and funding has the potential to convey a very important and engaging story.
Renaissance Men is playing at The Old Red Lion until December 26. For more information and tickets, click here.