views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Revenger's Tragedy
Jack Studio Theatre
5th March 2015

★★★★☆

The ensemble of The Revengers Tragedy

Photography © Adam Trigg

Despite being called The Revenger's Tragedy, there is more than just one protagonist with a grudge in Thomas Middleton's play. It's quite a complicated plot to follow, mainly because there are so many hidden agendas, but it all starts with Vindice (Lewis Davidson), whose beloved was killed by the Duke (Tom Jobson) some nine years ago. Hippolito (Alex Di Cuffa), Vindice's equally pissed off brother, finds out that the Duke's eldest son, Lussurioso (Liam Steward-George), is looking for someone to fetch him pretty young virgins. The two siblings conspire for Vindice to take on the job, disguised as "Piato".

Whilst this scheming is going on, one of the Duke's stepsons - Junior Brother (Joseph Wakelin), admits raping the wife of Lord Antonio (Samuel Freeman). The Duke refuses to step in to pardon Junior Brother and enraged by this lack of blended-family loyalty, the Duke's other stepsons, Ambitioso (Alexandra Reynolds) and Supervacuo (Jamie O'Neil), vow to free Junior Brother, and the Duchess (Paula James), Junior Brother's mother, decides to cheat on the Duke to punish him. The Duke's other son, Spurio (Joe Mott) - illegitimate and generally angry about the fact - agrees to become the Duchess's lover, even though he hates her, purely because he hates his father, the Duke, even more. Ah, Jeremy Kyle would have had a field day with this family. If he could understand any of it.

That's just how it starts - the plot becomes increasingly tangled, with more and more characters revealing their own twisted plans for revenge. Like I said, the title should really refer to plural revengers, it's misleading for Middleton to suggest Vindice is the only one with a score to settle. There aren't that many who come out of this well, other than Antonio and Castiza (Elle Banstead-Salim).

There's no mistaking The Revenger's Tragedy for anything other than a Lazarus production. Plenty of smoke, striking movement and lines, and a large talented ensemble who double up as characters and props. Director and adapter Gavin Harrington-Odedra blends a classical text with modernity, with present day outfits and music. It's yet another undeniably stylish affair from this company of classical specialists.

The ensemble of The Revengers Tragedy

Photography © Adam Trigg

As you'd expect, the acting is top-notch across the board. Our Aberdonian Vindice is suitably enraged, but it's actually the Duchess and Spurio who stand out, with a believable on-stage chemistry, and delightfully devilish duplicity on Spurio's part. The actors all deliver their lines well, but the fact that so many of them double up does make the mildly confusing plot even harder to follow. If you're not well-acquainted with Middleton, you're probably best reading the CliffsNotes before you go in - with most Shakespearian texts, you can with some effort feel your way along, but here some prior knowledge is a very helpful thing. If you do get lost, all you need to remember is everyone hates everyone else, and appreciate the striking visuals.

The final scenes aren't quite as brutal as those in The Spanish Tragedy, and Harrington-Odedra avoids the gore of Oedipus, but they are perfectly orchestrated nonetheless. The dance sequences with sound design by Neil McKeown are utterly captivating - whenever Lazarus take a classic and interpret part of it through dance, they always achieve something special. However, whilst shrouding a show in darkness often informs the company's style, Harrington-Odedra keeps the lighting low for too long in a few places, evoking memories of The Tragedy of Mariam, where the shadows got in the way of the overall enjoyment of the piece. He doesn't quite revert to those levels, but veers dangerously close at times.

Given Lazarus have built a solid reputation for taking on the classics, I'm not strictly sure they need the press. It's not their finest work, but The Revenger's Tragedy is nonetheless a strong contender for where to spend your hard-earned cash. If I see another Hamlet or Macbeth in the near future, I swear I'll scream. A Middleton makes for a refreshing change, and this one is executed with enough class to warrant a trip to South London.

The Revengers Tragedy ran from 3rd to 21st March 2015 at the Jack Studio Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Crofton Park (National Rail)



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