Theatre review: Handel’s Cross, Glasgow

Handel's Cross at CCA, Glasgow is not always an easy watch. Picture: Allan Milligan
Handel's Cross at CCA, Glasgow is not always an easy watch. Picture: Allan Milligan
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Doubtless a sensuous man, to judge by contemporary references to his weight and the passion-stirring splendour of his music, George Friedric Handel’s sexuality has long been a subject of conjecture, with the composer claiming that he only had time for music.

Handel’s Cross - CCA, Glasgow

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So writer Martin Lewton and director Andrew McKinnon of Theatre North have filled this void of speculation with a sado-masochistic fantasy that sublimates physical titillation and suffering to the agony and joy of creation. Set against a backdrop of Christian propriety, Lewton strips naked, before being bound to a St Andrew’s cross. Aligning his own painful process with that of The Messiah’s creator, he imagines the premier of Handel’s The Choice of Hercules in 1751, with 66-year-old “Fat Handel” (bizarrely replete with a Yorkshire accent) lusting after the production’s lead, 22-year-old castrato Gaetano Guadagni.

As Lewton shares his graphic, fevered narrative, McKinnon variously scalds him with hot wax, force feeds him, fixes clamps to his nipples, douses him in scent and whips his chest and penis. So, not always an easy watch, but one which does leave scope for the imagination, with both possessed pursuer and manipulative quarry brought vividly to life. McKinnon’s silent dutifulness under Lewton’s pre-arranged instruction only further blurs the boundaries of discipline, suppression and homoerotic energy bound up with the Christian trappings, punctuated with glorious bursts of Handel’s oeuvre.