Live Drawing: A Portrait of the Mona Lisa

Hamilton Gardens, Medici Court, Hamilton

27/02/2012 - 29/02/2012

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2012

Production Details

She is childish. She is mature beyond her years. She is clever. She is naive. She is a dozen other contradictions. She is the famous Mona Lisa. And her painter, Leonardo, has the obligation to capture as many of the facets of this young woman as he can. 

Live Drawing is a speculative drama about the three years it took to paint Da Vinci’s masterpiece. Leonardo has personal reasons to want to keep the portrait for himself rather than release it to Francesco Gioconda, Lisa’s husband, who commissioned his wife’s painting. We see Leonardo and Lisa argue and debate, but they also bare tier souls to each other. Thus, a relationship that commences in enmity between artist and subject concludes in the supreme camaraderie between two friends.

Involved in this production is Director David Artis, who has 33 years professional experience internationally, in theatre, film and television including many productions with James Bond composer David Arnold andHollywooddirector Danny Cannon.

In this complex and beautiful play, the three characters are played by only two actors.

Nick Wilkinson plays the role of Leonardo. He has had an extensive presence in theHamiltontheatre scene, playing lead roles in over 20 productions in the previous 10 years including Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show and the Engineer in Miss Saigon.

Jenna Hudson plays the dual role of Lady Lisa Gioconda and her husband Francesco Gioconda. Relatively new to the theatre scene, Jenna has worked with Full House Productions, is currently playing a title role in Footrot Flats inAucklandand shows her versatility in this demanding role.

“Live Drawing” includes live music from award winning soprano Hannah Adams and cellist Timothy Carpenter.

The audience will find themselves in the studio of Leonardo Da Vinci and witness the relationship between himself (a confirmed bachelor), and a beautiful young married woman half his age.

TheMedici Courtprovides the perfect Italian Renaissance backdrop for this period drama. Tickets can be purchased from Ticketek at a cost of $25 for this premiere production.

For more information please contact either director, David Artis on 027 879 0876 or producer, Nick Wilkinson on 027 462 6409.

Medici Court – Hamilton Gardens
Monday 27 February 2012, 8pm
Tuesday 28 February 2012, 8pm
Wednesday 29 February 2012, 8pm

Actors: Jenna Hudson and Nick Wilkinson

Wordy, informative and often humorous

Review by Gaye Poole 28th Feb 2012

As we walk into the Medici Court its wall creepers appear to have been spray-painted with purple tinges… the shift from 8pm late February light to incipient darkness in this venue is always enchanting.

There’s a moment in Live Drawing when Da Vinci (Nick Wilkinson), a self proclaimed genius, shudders before his own work, toward the end of his three years of devotion. An apparently involuntary intake of breath in front of his easel – a walking over the grave – it is my favourite moment in the show. Actors’ embodiment of what they play is why we agree to become an audience. We understand, in our bodies, why Da Vinci obsesses about anatomy as a way of getting beneath the skin.

Jules Tasca is a writer more prolific yet a good deal less famous than his painter subject. Da Vinci ‘s obsession with anatomy (visits to the slaughterhouse, study of those about to be executed), his perfectionism (three years for Mona Lisa), his famous procrastination (the brushstroke per day pace of The Last Supper in Milan), his rejection of the stark black background beloved of his peers, his technique of layering and shadowing, his preference for diffused light: it’s all there. Tasca’s interleaving of painting terminology works; ‘layering’ for me becomes the idea of the play; it’s what the painter does, and it’s what happens between these two.

The main conundrum of Tasca’s play is how can Mona Lisa’s ambiguous and mysterious qualities be conveyed in such a wordy script?  In it, Mona Lisa becomes absolutely reachable, attainable.

Few would imagine the energetic extroversion of Jenna Hudson as the famously enigmatic Mona Lisa but if you want a girl who can flirt, stand her ground, pout then switch to play her own husband (Francesco Gioconda, and the man paying for the portrait) with the addition of jacket and scarf then Jenna’s your girl. A little less tight-coiled urgency and we would fully grasp what Da Vinci sees in Jenna’s Lisa. As she speaks of her father staring at her as a child, we see a welcome taste of still eloquence.

Nick Wilkinson, plausibly aged, is tenacious, egotistical, verbally adroit and authoritative.

Aside from a few tell-tale glances to ‘take the temperature’ of the audience we are in confident hands.  The piece is wordy, informative and often humorous; the note Da Vinci leaves on his easel for prospective art thieves amuses, the actor offstage reading to onstage intruder Francesco advises close the door on the way out.

With settled nerves for the next two evenings, this portrait and process of reading the ‘architectonics of the human face’ will absorb the audience. And give a chance to explore that most expressive of the play’s concepts, the smile as ‘the underlaugh’.

David Artis keeps the pacing tight, the set and costuming scaled back to suit the short outdoor season. The selection of antiques is apt; favourite of all, the tiny fold-out artist’s chair.

The audience really warms to this piece as the evening cools. When Da Vinci announces he must leave Florence for France, Lisa implores him to “please remember me.” Their final embrace brings an affectionate and empathetic ‘aawww’ from the row behind me.

Artis, Wilkinson and Hudson have committed to this. The two players are a likeable, energised match and the production a timely companion piece to the film of the UK National Gallery of London’s exhibition Leonardo Live: Painter at the Court of Milan currently screening. 


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