For a man who’s been dead nearly 300 years, Gian Gastone is looking pretty lively. In fact there’s currently two of him, laughingly posing for post-rehearsal headshots in the sunlit cloisters of Il Fuligno.
In the red corner, Tim Daish, who has been resurrecting the Grand Duke in all his brazen, bedridden glory for audiences of the Medici Dynasty show since the summer of 2015. In the blue, up-and-coming Florentine actor Alessio Montagnani, who will be playing the role for the first time on the 10th April.
How does Alessio feel about theprospect? “I am craving it”, he declares. “It is a big challenge – but I love challenges”. The young actor’s impressive curriculum offers no contradiction; after studying at the HB Studio in Manhatten, writing and staging scripts around Italy and starring in a range of films and TV series (did somebody say HBO’s The Young Pope?) the role of Gian Gastone constitutes something of a grand return to stage. His ongoing projects to support new writers in the theatre scene have even helped him bond with his new character. He explains: “Gian Gastone has a vision that is very remarkable: ‘Art has to be shared as a gift amongst the many, not hoarded by the few’. His message is very important”.
Montagnani was also captivated by the show as a whole: “I really fell in love with the script, the way that it is written. The story is so incredible for the Florentine people – it’s thanks to these two characters that we know Florence as it is.” He is referring to Gian Gastone and his stern but remarkable sister, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, this season portrayed as always by the talented Carolina Gamini. “And the play transcends their historical relationship – it’s something everyone would benefit from seeing”.For this benefit the credit must go to Giuseppe Arone, the creator and co-producer of the show. He’s overseen the production since its inception, tweaking and nurturing it over the years with the help of an international team, to bring Florence’s history alive. Arone shares Montagnani’s anticipation for the new season. “Alessio is a very interesting actor” he smiles, “he wants to know his character very deeply ”. The actor’s reinterpretation of the role in still in its early days, but Arone hints “I think the main change we will see is a more Tuscan aspect to Gian Gastone’s character – Alessio was born here and so he knows the culture, the humour, even how Italians express with their hands – like orchestra conductors”. As for the show, despite the current version’s popularity, steady evolution is part of its nature: “I think art is always a work in progress – there’s always space to improve.”
It may lack the bloodshed and intrigue of some of the more memorable dynastic successions, but as Tim goes on to dedicate more time to other projects and the hallowed wig settles onto its new shoulders, this change augurs a time of refreshing innovation for the show, as it continues to bring into ever more colourful focus the family who gave us Florence.