Pros: Visually impressive work by the seven-strong cast involving lighting and movement to make this play come to life.
Cons: Some scenes are clearly designed to be viewed head-on, so the audience members on either side miss a few little treats.
Entering the basement that is Barons Court Theatre feels like descending into the bowels of hell, making it the perfect location for this show. The atmosphere is either helped or hindered, depending on your viewpoint, by the slightly pungent smell of the urinals located down there. The theatre space is compact, atmospheric and, for such a small theatre, remarkably comfy, with seating spread over three sides of the stage. Okay, the pillars on the stage corners are a little awkward, but without them the building would probably fall down, so let’s not be too picky!
Probably like many theatregoers, I’ve only a passing acquaintance with the Divine Comedy. That basically means I really don’t know much detail beyond its concepts of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, and that the poem is about his travels through the three. So, with my limited knowledge, I cannot say how true So It Goes Theatre’s interpretation is to the epic poem. I think it’s safe to say, however, that it didn’t feature a Chelsea F.C. chant and that the four apostles weren’t decked out in high-visibility jackets. And, whilst I’m sure Dante was in some way tortured in the original poem, it probably didn’t involve waterboarding! I’m also sure that, however much artistic interpretation there was, were Dante himself to witness this show, he would be proud of the achievement.
Like the theatre space, the show is tight; with seven actors in such a small space, it has to be. The scene is quickly set as Dante meets Virgil, who explains that he will be his guide as he seeks Beatrix, the love of his heart. Our hero and his guide travel through the various realms of Hell, and it is here that the five muses work so hard to create a physical environment for Dante and Virgil to travel through. With no scenery, it’s all done with little more than two torches, three chairs, a number of canes, and some clever visual effects on the plain white wall. All five are magnificent, dressed in almost identical outfits of black leggings and white tops, and it’s impossible to pick out who to praise the most. But don’t imagine the five are just silent extras; they also play all the additional characters with aplomb, shifting effortlessly from sweet former acquaintances to sinister and menacing dead souls. Their portrayal of the four apostles as they torture Dante is pure delight – unless you are offended by the apostles being portrayed as cockney geezers.
For such a tight space, the coordination is impressive and a credit to Matthew Coulton for his movement direction – no more so than when our five muses circle and sing their love as they ride the Tube (Dante probably didn’t write that scene either). It’s beautiful, both visually and audibly.
The use of light and animation, created by Matthew Kirke and Douglas Baker, brings further depth, making the show even more watchable. It’s clever trickery as well as a visual treat as they create Cerberus’ hounds attacking a lost soul with shadow play, and later Dante climbing Lucifer’s back. Both look so simple, but I feel that is because they have been so well rehearsed.
The show does drift briefly towards the end as they attempt to add unnecessary depth with a discussion of Dante’s intentions in writing the poem, and if I were to suggest anything it would be to tighten this up. But they are soon back on track as the chorus returns once more to test Dante’s purpose for being there, and he himself questions his life. The use of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life as the lights finally come up is just a perfect finishing touch.
So It Goes Theatre’s adaptation of the Divine Comedy is highly recommended, and deserves to be seen in a bigger space so it can truly flourish. But, for now, try to catch it in the depths of hell that is the wonderful Barons Court Theatre.
Author: Dante Alighieri
Adapted and Directed by: Douglas Baker
Producer: Charles Golding
Email Bookings: Send details of performance and number of tickets required to firstname.lastname@example.org, then pay for them in cash when you go to the performance
Box Office: 0208 932 4747
Booking Until: 30 September 2017