Pros: The stellar line-up of actors will have you laughing throughout.
Cons: With some very speedy exchanges in 17th Century speak; be prepared to miss a few jokes.
Period theatre can go one of two ways. It can come across as dated and dull, causing the audience to sit through an evening of fidgeting and mind-wandering. Or it can go the way of Volpone, or The Fox, by Ben Jonson. Whose satirical take on the nature of human greed is just as entertaining and enthralling today, as ever. Revived time and time again (and rightly so), The Scena Mundi Theatre Company have put their own stamp on this classic tale. Whether you are familiar with Jonson’s play or not, it is certainly worth a watch.
In its newest form Volpone, or The Fox is staged at the wonderfully welcoming Jack Studio Theatre. It’s the story of a wealthy aristocrat, well versed in cunning, who, with the assistance of his servant, Mosca (the Fly), feigns illness. In doing so he tricks gullible and greedy fortune hunters, Voltore, Corvino and Corbaccio into lavishing him with expensive trinkets in the hopes of being named his heir. After much laughter at the expense of his flatterers, Volpone takes his own greed a little too far. Not content with giant pearls, and handfuls of jewels, he sets his sights on the lovely wife of one of his flatterers, Celia. This is when his villainous plot begins to unravel. The play is originally set in Venice in the early 1600s; however Cecilia Dorland’s direction takes the tale forward to the 1920s. This is entirely fitting considering the decadence of the post-war era.
The play opens on a lavish party where masked revellers are dancing to an upbeat jazz number. It perfectly sets the scene for the dance of deceit to come, and the audience were laughing along with the onstage festivities from the outset; Scena Mundi Theatre Company produced some great comedy moments. Aside from some line stumbling from the play’s title character, the entire cast were faultless. A particular favourite was Joshua Pugh’s Bonario, whose over-the-top chivalry, and flamboyant cane wielding were highly entertaining. The brightest star, I think all would agree, was Pip Brignall. His portrayal of Mosca was outstanding throughout. From his Cheshire Cat grin in the opening scene, to his wily web-spinning from beginning to end, he was a joy to watch.
As well as the top notch acting, the costumes, designed by Penny Rischmiller, were also inspired. A nod to traditional Roman satire, where humans were often depicted as animals, subtle touches such as embroidered fly’s wings and pockets lined with crows feathers were a great addition, without being too absurd. Similarly, the set design by Edward Fisher was the perfect balance between subtle and ostentatious. This, and the scenic painting by John Dalton, portrayed opulence fitting to the tale, but at no point distracting from the action. Many a performance can be weighed down by complex scene changes due to over-complicated sets, but this quick-paced satire flowed perfectly.
The only fault I picked up on was that, because it was so fast-paced, a few things went completely over my head. Particularly in the second half, it felt as though things were being hurried along. I’m sure a few points were missed. For the sake of a reasonable performance time, I would happily sacrifice a few laughs to keep the performance from dragging.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Scena Mundi’s delightful re-imagining of a well-loved classic. The impeccable comedic acting and the reinterpretation of a story, which I’m sure, will be relevant for centuries to come, made for a wonderful evening. It’s more than worth the trip to Brockley.
Author: Ben Jonson
Director: Cecilia Dorland
Producer: Edward Fisher for Scena Mundi Theatre Company
Booking Until: 17th October 2015
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/brockleyjackstudio/events