Pros: The music, lights and creative opening choreography created a compelling atmosphere of sinful revelry.
Cons: Middleton’s language didn’t get the showing it deserved.
The last time I saw The Revenger’s Tragedy performed was at The National Theatre in 2008, with Rory Kinnear in the main role of Vindice. So yes, I came to the Jack Studio Theatre with high expectations, and the memory of that spectacular production moving through my mind. But, putting my unhealthy adoration for Kinnear’s talent aside, as a seasoned theatregoer I can appreciate that the only stick of measurement you use for a production is the one that it sets itself. Jacobean drama like The Revenger’s Tragedy lends itself to a million and one possibilities for interpretation, given that the action is told so explicitly and descriptively through poetry and prose. The way it is shown however is really up to you and your imagination, or in this case the Lazarus Theatre Company’s.
In The Revenger’s Tragedy we follow brothers Vindice and Hippolito as they seek to avenge themselves against the Duke who poisoned Vindice’s young love. In amidst the lies, adulteries and conspiracies of the court, Vindice adopts tricks and disguises in his pursuit of the Duke. Given the title of the play, you’ve no doubt guessed it doesn’t end well, for anyone. Lazarus have not dressed the studio space at the Brockley Jack, instead opting for a minimal empty stage with only masks for props. I think this was a smart choice given the size of the studio, because any effort towards representing the excessive luxuries of the court would have been neither practical nor achievable.
The theatre sits in an attractive building that also houses the Brockley Jack pub. The pub is nice but not especially glamourous and it’s a shame the diners aren’t separate from theatregoers as the smell of pub fare invaded all spaces! Location is easily accessible from public transport, and once in the theatre space itself, you’re guaranteed a half decent view wherever you sit as it’s a classic black box space with a trust stage.
This show took performing in the round to the next level with a demarcated circle on the floor. As actors moved beyond this boundary their actions would slow and coming into the circle they joined the action. I liked this simple mechanism as it helped them to glide quite easily from scene to scene and location to location. A large cast supported this production so there was usually a large number of silent frozen actors beyond the boundary. These bodies could have been put to better use I felt, as sometimes I was distracted from the action on the circle by the ‘backstage’ action outside the circle (i.e. actors removing masks). More collective choreographed movements would have been appreciated as this worked well at the opening of the play where a busy club-style mass of movement expressed the revelry and sin of the court’s festivities.
My disappointment stems from the fact that I wasn’t basking in the language the way I would expect to when watching a play by Middleton. It was an especially young cast across all roles and I personally felt they weren’t experienced enough to carry the text. The strength of character therefore was missing. With a minimalist design and no distinguishing costumes to boot, it just felt a bit lacking. If the stage is bare then the voice of all characters has to fill it and on this occasion, it didn’t. I do think they’ve put their heart and soul into it though and if the style of the production were focused upon and the movements choreographed to absolute precision, then it would certainly feel a lot more polished.
Author: Thomas Middleton
Adapted and directed by: Gavin Harrington-Odedra
Producer: Lazarus Theatre Company
Lighting design: Stuart Glover
Sound design: Neil McKeown
Booking until: 21 March 2015
Box office: 0333 666 3366
Booking link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/brockleyjackstudio/events