Thomas Mann‘s 1912 autobiographical novella set on the Venice Lido has long captured the imagination of writers, actors and composers – from Visconti’s mawkish soft-focus movie with Dirk Bogarde (and its haunting Mahler score) to the Benjamin Britten opera. It’s the story of an aging man, Aschenbach, bewitched by a teenage boy, Tadzio, a symbol of the older man’s lost boyhood. Tadzio now an aging man himself (played with effortless ease by Christopher Peacock) recalls his own feelings of that far-off summer on the beach in this gripping and measured monologue.
This chamber piece is elegantly staged. It’s full of insight though sometimes veers perilously close to the overwrought. Tadzio’s summer encounter happened when he was no longer a child but not yet a man and he is confused by his own feelings as much as the unfathomable stare of Aschenbach. Writer Martin Foreman captures well the stiff, repressed Edwardian mores and the boy’s putative sexual awakening. Tadzio recognises that Aschenbach’s obsession gives Tadzio the power – a power that he doesn’t necessarily want. From the Death in Venice story we know what Aschenbach thinks and feels and now we have Tadzio’s story; of his betrayal when the old man dyes his hair in an attempt to look younger and finally succumbs to cholera. The unspoken affection haunts Tadzio for 40 years.