Thomas Middleton’s 17th century play The Revenger’s Tragedy is a story of power and revenge set in an Italian court. The story follows the fate of a man who swears to avenge his lover’s rape and murder, stopping at nothing to achieve his aim. Written in difficult verse, and with a convoluted plot line and quite divisive content (rape, torture, and every type of “icide” you can think of) this is a tough one to approach, to say the least. Maybe Lazarus Theatre Company should be praised for taking it on at all, in their new adaptation at the Jack Studio. Unfortunately theatrical bravery does not a good production make.
Director Gavin Harrington-Odedra opens with a strong image – a divided yet intertwined group of people, hollering for attention or power or vengeance or all of the above. A bronze circle on the floor is the only set, an arena for the bloody revenge politics to follow. Strong points early in the piece give hope, in the form of a powerful monologue from Joe Mott, whose scheming bastard son Spurio is just the right amount of psychopath. This, along with Paula James’ calm and powerful Duchess are the two strongest points of the night – and whilst they show themselves early on, it isn’t enough to pull the audience through the rest of what quite frankly is a caustic, non-entity of a production.
The verse is almost completely unintelligible from the outset, and when coherent, it seems as though most actors are unsure what they’re getting at. Lewis Davidson’s Vindice, the meat in the vengeance sandwich, loses me again and again because of a lack of clarity not just in speaking but also in thought – and his struggle with a change in accent when he is in disguise becomes as irritating as it is confusing. The company remain on stage for the entire production and I can see the merit in this as an idea, but in this case it is clumsily realised and I spend a lot of the evening looking at shoulders or backs of heads.
One of the difficulties in fringe theatre is finding older actors to be involved in low paid work. An audience hopefully understands this, and allows for it, but Middleton’s play is so engulfed with relationships between children and parents that watching actors of the same age play these pairings begins to feel a little farcical. Costume changes when actors double or disguise themselves are so subtle as to go unnoticed and the murders of the final act are rushed through in a bizarre and unsatisfying piece of movement work.
Lazarus are trying to re-invent classics through movement, music and text and that is a fine, fine aim. Unfortunately, a lack of clarity plagues this production, and makes it seem more like an student piece than a 17th century classic. 2/5
Review written by Samuel Clay.
The Revenger’s Tragedy is currently showing at the Jack Studio until Saturday 21st March. For more information on the production, visit here…