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David Thaxton as Giorgio

David Thaxton as Giorgio

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[…] And though Fosca has tended in the past to be the part that wins awards - a Tony for Donna Murphy in 1994, an Olivier for Maria Friedman two years later - this Passion makes clear the extent to which Giorgio drives the piece, not least because the superlative Thaxton conveys a visceral, wrenching fury to help suggest that, in some way, he and Fosca might indeed be soulmates, however grotesque he initially takes her to be. (Her behaviour nowadays might well prompt a restraining order.)

An alumnus of Les Mis (who isn’t?), Thaxton towers over Roger, who should be used to such pairings from her career-making West End stand in Evita opposite the amply framed Philip Quast. The difference in height serves the piece, Giorgio at first regarding Fosca as some sort of human gnat that won’t be easily swatted away. But that’s to ignore the insistence of someone who in her refusal to go starts to gnaw at Giorgio’s resolve. Eventually, his ongoing expressions of love to Clara are beginning to sound flat and pro forma next to the raw, exposed nerve that is Fosca, who in turn has the ability to turn Giorgio into a quivering wreck; Thaxton’s gathering physical disrepair lends the role a pathos I had never thought it capable of before, with no small assist from the show’s sinuous musical leitmotifs. […]

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David Thaxton talks about ‘Passion’ in the Stephen Sondheim Society interview (April 2011).

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Despite its first-rate initial productions in New York and subsequent ones in both the United States and Europe, I had never seen Passion come properly into focus until its 2010 revival at the Donmar Warehouse in London. The production was imaginatively directed by Jamie Lloyd, gorgeously set and costumed by Christopher Oram, elegantly lit by Neil Austin and superlatively acted by the entire cast, but what made the eye-opening difference was the presence of the leading actor, David Thaxton. Fosca may be the novel’s title, but the story is clearly about Giorgio, who narrates it. He describes Fosca in detail but himself hardly at all. As written, he is that generic nineteenth-century literary staple, the classic protagonist who observes and reacts rather than acts. Giorgio is a tabula rasa, and it’s up to the actor who plays him to body him forth, whereas the actor playing Fosca merely has to personalize a specifically defined character. The one characteristic that Giorgio must have is innocence. Even though he is not naive, being in the midst of an affair with a married woman, he has to be in some way unprepared not only for the aridity of frontier life but for the extravagance of Fosca’s emotions.

Innocence is hard to act. It has little to do with age and everything to do with the actor’s quality; it has to come built in. Thaxton’s quality delineated Giorgio; he conveyed an innocent vulnerability not just through acting but by virtue of who he was. Unlike all the other Giorgios I’d seen, he didn’t seem to be a fully grown man; he was clearly someone who was on the brink of change, and that was crucial to the story. Giorgio’s transformation during the course of Passion has always been a source of audience contention: some have accepted it and been moved by it, some have found it impossible to believe. In this case, it was not only unarguable, it was inevitable. Elena Roger’s performance as Fosca was intense and powerful, but close up (the Donmar Warehouse is an intimate theatre), Giorgio’s purity and fragility made him the magnetic center of attention, a position Fosca had always held in previous productions. For the first time, the story was clearly about him and not Fosca. […]

Not many performances refocus a work the way David Thaxton’s did in Passion, because most shows don’t allow for it, or need it.

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