Waiting for the Boatman by Stephen Wakelam

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Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 16 March 2012
Having settled down to an independent life, the painter Mario Minniti (David Tennant) travels to Naples to see out his old friend and mentor Caravaggio. However the great painter is nowhere to be found; in his attempts to discover his last known whereabouts, Minniti is taken on a journey of discovery about Caravaggio's private and personal lives.
At one level Waiting for the Boatman is a detective story, with Minniti as the impromptu detective talking to various witnesses, including close acquaintance Piero (Anton Lesser), ex-patron the Marchesa di Colonna (Tracy Wiles), as well as Caravaggio's former lovers. At a deeper level, however, the play focuses on the mystery of artistic creation; that peculiar something that separates a great painter from mere journeymen. Caravaggio emerges as something of a self-interested eccentric, who would say one thing to one person, and something completely different to another, leaving everyone with the mistaken belief that he really cared for them. Yet he had the unique ability to capture his subjects' feelings and emotions on canvas, suggesting that he understood them better than they understood themselves. Minniti is asked to finish one of Caravaggio's paintings, but realizes, quite rightly, that the task is an impossible one.
A regular figure on radio these days, David Tennant gives a wistful performance as Minniti, as he comes to understand how Caravaggio really felt about him, while realizing that, despite his pretensions, he (Minniti) can never hope to emulate his mentor. Anton Lesser offers capable support as Piero, whose steely-eyed pragmatism contrasts with Minniti's idealism. The director of this Afternoon Drama was Sasha Yevtushenko.