Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett

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BBC Radio 3, 5 September 2010

Set in 1954, Giovanni's Room focused on David, a handsome young American (Damian Lewis), who meets the stunningly attractive Giovanni (Antonio Magro) in a Parisian bar, and embarks on a passionate love-affair. David's fiancee Hella (Greta Scacchi) returns to Paris, but David cannot tell the truth about himself. He pretends the homosexual love-affair has never happened, which causes tragic consequences for all three protagonists.
The action unfolded in a series of two- or three-person dialogues, punctuated with direct observations - mostly from David, but with frequent interventions by the other character, including Giovanni's friend Jacques (Michael Feast). Through this technique director Bartlett suggested that David was a fundamentally weak character: every opinion he expressed would be immediately contradicted by his loved ones.
David understood his shortcomings; this helped to explain why he had come to Paris in the first place, in a vain attempt to 'discover' himself. However he could never accomplish this task, chiefly because he lived in a dream-world of Parisian romance, rather engaging with the realities of everyday life. Bartlett suggested this through sound-effects - as David spoke, we heard the lilting sound of Parisian singers in the background. Once he had finished, the music abruptly ceased.
On the other hand, perhaps David's friends should also be blamed for the tragedy. They treated him as a Dorian Gray-like figure - a blond Adonis living in a world of his own. They might criticize him through asides, but never in direct conversation. Bartlett once again used sound-effects to make this point explicit: as the characters spoke to David, we often heard the popping of champagne-corks in the background, as if everyone was dedicated to enjoyment, while wilfully ignoring David's shortcomings.
In this interpretation, everyone was in some way imprisoned both physically and mentally. Giovanni would not led David escape from his room, for fear that their love-affair might end; Hella refused to acknowledge her fiance's change of heart; while David's father (John Lithgow) refused to acknowledge his son's bisexuality. The American characters were also imprisoned by prejudice: Bartlett made much of their inability to treat the Parisians on their own terms, rather than thinking of them as unprincipled or licentious. Such lack of understanding lay at the heart of the play's tragedy.