The Revenger's Tragedy

Tue 1st – Fri 11th May 2012

reviews

Chelsey Stuyt

at 10:03 on 2nd May 2012

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Gentleman Jack Theatre sets things off well with the pitch perfect performance by Michael Bongiorno (Andrew Kingston) whose rendition of “Rio”, replete with heavy Italian accent, reduced at least one audience member to giggles. The singing however, was just for the ladies. A group of scantily clad guards were on duty to separate the ladies from the gentlemen and led the latter behind the red curtain for a treat from Pink Kitten exotic dance school. While the split was a bit galling from a 21st century female perspective, the move was a good primer for the Jacobean mindset of what was to come.

Enter Il Duce (played with an air of somehow loving nepotism by Gareth Warren). He opened the show with a fistful of charisma as he sang Frank Sinatra's “My way”. It was fabulous and things only got better.

The physicality of the actors was also particularly noteworthy, particularly that of Hippolito (Anthony Wright-Wilson) and Castiza (Amy Tobias). The fights were convincingly well choreographed and Castiza's vehement refusal to lay down her chastity (her attack on Vindice is hilariously real) and subsequent play-acting of the harlot was a highlight of the show.

And the script is incredible. So many fantastic turns of phrase. From, “The fall of one head lifts another”, to “the hour of incesto!”, Thomas Middleton's script is more accessible than Shakespeare and, I think, funnier. Rarely do you see a play whose script and actors are of such a well-matched calibre.

But there was a problem, one which continued to bother me for the rest of the evening. When you arrive, the cast, scattered about the theatre, greet you with either a heavy Italian accent (and in one case, Russian maybe?) or in full Italian. This continues until Il Duce departs the scene of his serenade. Suddenly, Vindice bursts through the red curtains (a wonderfully bombastic performance by Philip Perry whose elasticity gave depth to everything he touched), and from this moment the dialogue suddenly shifts from pseudo-Italian to Jacobean English. The change is jarring and is never explained or re-visited. Yes, I gather that they are supposed to be in Italy, and yes, they were meant to be updating it to the modern day. But the script was Jacobean and the shift just didn't work. It still bothers me now. Why did they do it?

The other issue was with the breaking of the fourth wall. With the mix of murder-mystery interaction during the breaks, and the dramatic asides during the actual performance, i felt the show verged off the side of tongue-in-cheek and into the realm of absurdly awkward. The fourth wall went up and down so many times that it was unclear which scenes the audience was meant to be present in and which we were not. Speaking to the audience is one thing, as the audience remains at a comfortable remove from the action. However, when the actors physically touch the audience and force them to move about the room, they become more than a passive observer and, in a play of seven murders, this only became increasingly uncomfortable.

That being said, these were two very tiny niggles. Everything else was absolutely fantastic. The staging was particularly well done. As the audience was led around the room the action continued to surprise and innovate. Watching the duchess and the bastard surreptitiously slip into a back room during the intermission, only to surprise the audience with their reappearance later, on was a definite highlight.

In a show with so many standout performances it would be impossible to enumerate them all. The script was incredible, the actors were more talented (and multi-talented) than any new theatre company has any right to contain, the staging was brilliant, and the costumes were gorgeous. Go see it, enjoy it, and tell everyone you know. This is a show where the cup doth truly runneth over with stars. See them now before it costs you your limbs to do so.

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