Thomas Middleton's nightmare of revenge is once again played absurdly, but Nicholas Thompson's production manages to straddle the line between horrifically grotesque and surreal with a dash of 80s flair, with aplomb - a brilliant production with excellent performances all round. This is the part of the Old Red Lion's Rep Season to see!
It now seems almost commonplace to play The Revenger's Tragedy as a nightmare - with a plot completely full of rape, murder and incest, most production companies approach it as the blackest of comedies instead of Jacobean revenge-play melodrama, playing the overwrought and ridiculous moments for full comic effect. The Old Red Lion have gone down a similar route here, but the effect is heightened by cross-gender performances and a bizarrely fitting 80s vibe. Sounds awful, I'll admit - but the performers all commit fully to the madness, and it all proves an excellent frame for Middleton's grim poetry.
Unlike the other part of this Old Red Lion repertory season, Henry V (which suffers a little from a rather heavy directorial stamp), Nicholas Thompson's approach here feels like it has actually helped with the vagaries of rep work - the small cast doubling and even tripling up works well in so odd an environment, and the outrageous fashion disaster that was the 80s proves ample fodder for a variety of costumes that leave little doubt as to which character we are seeing. They also suit the often-costumed Vindice well. The power- and money-mad drive of the time also suits the plot of the play perfectly, with few Renaissance lines glaring against the modern lights (bar the classic descriptions of little pocket-knives and swords, but I think we've all grown used to that now...).
No, this is a rather excellent set-up, and the actors all rise to the challenge - there are brilliant performances from all members of the company, although there are some stand-outs: Mark Field, who floundered least in the other show, has a whale of a time as Vindice, with a wonderfully ridiculous camp turn as his alter-ego Piato. He grasps each of his lines and moments, despite the multiple complications of character and speaking to the audience, with astute accuracy - a really fantastic job. Jack Morris also fares well as his main foil Lussoriso, ridiculously over-the-top and crude, a really delightful villain. Nicholas Kime also deserves a mention for his triple billing as Spurio, the Duke's bastard son, Junior, the rapist, and (strangely) as Castiza, Vindice's sister - all three roles cast him as a little pathetic (or, in places, are adapted to do so), playing on his very slight frame, but he plays them all with passion.
It's just a lovely production. Everything clicks into place - from the disco-lights and 80s theme music during scene changes to the performers, it's very clean, very slick, and very enjoyable. It's a shame it's playing alongside a far lesser production, but that's the way it goes - and this is definitely the one to see out of the two.