“The Muse”, Leighton House becomes a theatre

“The Muse”, Leighton House becomes a theatre


What was a typical British person’s idea of Italy during the Victorian age? Where does their love of artists and patrons in Rome, Florence, Venice come from?

There is an Italian interpretation of the play “The Muse. Beauty. Nudity. Ambition” which is currently on stage until March 28th in the Leighton House museum in Holland Park.

Giovanni Costa is one of the main characters in the play. He played a key role in developing  cultural relations between Italy and the UK during the Victorian age. He is played by the Sicilian actor Marco Gambino who has been living in London for decades. “He was a painter and a patriot – Gambino says – he was a partisan as well, with a passion for England. His life and his experiences are an example of the fascination exerted by Italy in the eyes of the British, who took inspiration from our country. It’s topical and helpful  for us to understand British society today: multicultural but also resolute in its identity. A portrait of Giovanni Costa is on displayed at Leighton House, the building where the play takes place.

“The Muse” is a treat for those passionate about Art and History. Not surprisingly, all tickets are already sold-out. “Londra, Italia” attended the preview.


Francesca Marchese Londra Italia The Muse 3
foto: Francesca Marchese


For the first time, the story of Lord Frederic Leighton is narrated though theatre. He was an artist and the President of the Royal Academy. The play is “site-specific”, which means it played out that is, meant to be represented in the same place where the acts originally took place: Lord Leighton study, where the audience sit in a semicircle. The Muse of the title’s play is Dorothy Dene, a diaphanous model for the paintings and the advertisements  (and “confidant” of the elderly patron ..). She posed there completely nude in 1886. The balance of power between the two characters – he, influential and unconventional, and she in her twenties, beautiful and fragile – is central to the play, all in English. Lord Leighton is Michael Hadley, a star of British theater; Dorothy is the actress Tegan Hitchens.

Even the house-museum itself is a character, decorated with paintings, sculptures, tapestries, ceramics, marble columns and mosaic floors. The central room is called “The Arab Hall” and is inspired by Zisa Castle which is located in Palermo. The ornamentes are inspired by the peacock, the symbol of the nearby Holland Park. The house is a marvel to visit, not very well known to tourists. In 1859 it received a visit by her Majesty Queen Victoria.

The actress Katherine Tozer, creative director of the company Palimpsest, designed “The Muse” and is on the stage herself. “Katherine has worked a full year – adds Marco Gambino – to oversee every single detail, from shirts to glasses. Everything is historically true”. “It has been a fascinating and at times ghostly process” Mrs Tozer says.

The audience knows it: documents and even a booklet with the Death Certificate of the beautiful Dorothy are distributed at the end of the play. There is also a postcard dated “Bocca d’Arno, 1887”. Don’t miss the website, the content-rich audio and photos of Dorothy immortalized in vintage advertising.


Francesca Marchese


Londra, 12/3/2015


(clicca qui per leggere l’articolo in Italiano)


Leighton House interior1
The Arab Hall at Leighton House (photo: www.rbkc.gov.uk)