The Revenger’s Tragedy

MATILDA BATHURST on vigour, tenderness and infection.

Abi Bennett Art Ben Blyth emma roberts pretentious Raoul Moat rosy wiseman Sex Stewart Lee The Movement toby parker rees Tom de Freston vigorous

Corpus Playroom, 26-30th October, 7.30pm, £5-6

Directed by Toby Parker-Rees


‘Surely we’re all mad?’ I trilled to myself after The Revenger’s Tragedy, frothing slightly at the mouth as I stumbled down St Edmund’s Passage looking for some syphilitic totty. But not even I would like to meet that play’s characters down a dark alley. Written potentially by Thomas Middleton, definitely not Cyril Tourneur, most likely Toby Parker-Rees, this truly is the pièce de résistance of all stepmother-fuckin’, skull-kissin’, syphilis-sweatin’ plays.

With costumes by artist Tom de Freston, the performance showcases the latest in lothario-chic; visual puns adding a sharp edge to the layers of irony inherent in this carefully gauged performance, artfully distressed and glitteringly virtuosic. Jessica Patterson adds some interesting choreography, which combines circus freak-show with genuine grace.

Blyth: Shadowy

Shadowy Ben Blyth shines as the protagonist, Vindice, slipping from urgent plotting to raging madness within seconds. It is a powerful performance, and one brilliantly complemented by the opening scene of the play: clockwork characters cartwheeling on stage with rolling eyes and inmate garb, cut through by Blyth’s Raoul Moat ranting from within the audience. Hippolito, played by the nonchalant Leo Parker-Rees, tempers the tragedy with compulsive banana eating, and creates the perfect sounding-board for Vindice’s despair.

Because we all like girls, Parker-Rees, his very own PR man, has nimbly injected the original script with a few more. The conniving brother duo is transformed into ‘Supervacua and Ambitiosa’, an infinitely more terrifying pair of screeching sisters, played ably by Abi Bennett and Emma Roberts. The role of ‘Spratta’, originally the Duchess’ youngest son, is played by the super-seductive Rosy Wiseman, imprisoned for raping the ‘sapling serving boy’ of a courtier – an empowering statement for feminists and sapling-sulliers alike.

Wiseman: Empowering

Adam Drew as the lust-laden Lussurioso makes the role his own. Adopting a grotesque leg-shiver at the very word ‘virgin’ and a voice like honey squeezed between the breasts of an Oktoberfest Fräulein, he is the very peak of eager post-Boyzone biliousness. His handling of the lines adds a technical professionalism to his performance, making the most of the script’s wit and sonority.

The plot, admittedly, is complex and at times difficult to follow – one revenge slides into another, characters slip between disguises, one dead body is another’s murderer, another is murdered twice. With a final scene where deaths are dealt out with cutlery, it would be naive to describe the play as entirely serious – but it would be equally short-sighted to take it as farce.

The original script is ridden with implicit satire of the ridiculous machinations of courtly life, and is no Hamlet – despite the gruesome muse of a rotting skull, still slightly coiffed. This production, as per Middleton, mocks the postmodern (post-Early Modern?) impulse for life to be as neatly arced as art. Vindice has clearly read Hamlet, and part of Blyth’s frothy frustration in the role comes from his own bathetic falling short.

The Director’s notes may quote philosophy from Nietzsche to the aforementioned Moat, and claim influence from Stewart Lee and tribal clowns – but don’t let that put you off if you consider yourself more Pret-a-Manger than pretentious. Parker-Rees’ interpretation is subtle, witty and not for the faint hearted or weak wristed. An orgasmic delight, which knocks the Mange out of Pret-a-Manger, the Stars out of Starbucks, the Go out of Indigo.

Parker-Rees describes Middleton as the writer ‘who sees the skin beneath the skirt and the skull beneath the skin’ – something only visible to an audience when handled so vigorously, tenderly, and infectiously.

With thanks to Tom de Freston for the photos