Among the delights of the Fringe are the opportunities it occasionally presents to see quality performers in more intimate, personal projects. A case in point is Maurice Roëves, a popular character actor best known for his roles in Tutti Frutti and The Last of the Mohicans — though he’s also one of the few British actors to have appeared in both Star Trek and Doctor Who.
Now 75, Roëves takes to the stage in Edinburgh in the part of an Italian gentleman of the same age (and former officer in the Italian Bersaglieri) by the name of Angelo Ravagli. It’s 1959: Ravagli has come to La Fonda Hotel in Teos, New Mexico, to barter with its owner, the Greek exile Saki Karavas. He wants to return home to Italy and is willing to sell Karavas nine paintings that will become increasingly valuable thanks to the identity of their creator, the author D H Lawrence.
But weary Ravagli also has a story to tell Karavas — or, rather, the audience who sits increasingly uncomfortably in Karavas’s place, especially if you’re in the singular spot Roëves chooses to focus on. This is a last-ditched attempt by Ravagli to justify himself as being more than ‘just a gigolo’; for Ravagli had a long-running affair with Lawrence’s wife Frida, and is generally regarded as the real-life inspiration for the ‘energetic’ gamekeeper Mellors in Lawrence’s best-known novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. ‘We will do what we have to do,’ he says at one point, albeit with some remorse for the friend he betrayed — the friend Ravagli still felt some anger towards for standing between him and the woman he loved (and, after Lawrence’s death, would marry).
Writer/director Stephen Lowe knows his Lawrence — too well, perhaps. This has the advantage of being a different and unusual angle from which to approach the author and questions about adultery. Yet, despite Roëves’ best attempt, this does come across as too much like a lecture (complete with slide show); it certainly doesn’t help that the venue is one of the University of Edinburgh’s lecture halls where this reviewer personally sat through many an interminable hour a few decades back.
Monologues are by no means an easy form to master; they require a particular strength and life to keep an audience’s attention focused on one individual and, despite his best efforts, Roëves just doesn’t quite hold it together. Even his accent occasionally falters, and you’re never quite sure if some of the disastrously distracting verbal stumbles are deliberate or not. Worst of all, we never even learn for sure from this monologue if the sale of the pictures is made — it’s only when you read the programme notes that you learn Karavas did indeed buy the paintings and then spent the rest of his life offering them to the British Government in return for the Elgin Marbles. An interesting fact, but certainly not enough to raise this particular theatrical experience above the tragically dull.