The Revenger's Tragedy

Thomas Middleton
RNT Olivier Theatre

Production photo

Melly Still brings us a work from the oddest of genres, seemingly named after this play. Where the best of Revenge practitioners John Webster, maintains a degree of seriousness in his efforts, here Middleton piles so much intrigue into the evening that he eventually descends into low comedy but with an underlying moral stance.

The playwright packs this play with brothers and blackguards often under the same skin, which can make it hard to follow the early scenes.

These intriguing Italians make the Borgias seem like a nice family. The Duke, played by Ken Bones, appears an honourable and upstanding type, until we discover that nine years back, he had ravaged and killed the hero Vindici's affianced.

Adjoa Andoh as his scarlet Duchess is worse, chasing after her husband's evil bastard son (Billy Carter) and heedless of anyone or anything but her own pleasure.

Her three sons and stepson are a collective bad lot, while Vindici and his brother are not too pleasant either. They have their own problems, as their mother (Barbara Flynn) is willing to sell her beautiful daughter (Katherine Manners) to the Duke's dashing but unscrupulous son, the dissolute Lussurioso, given high realism by Elliot Cowan.

The intricate plotting begins to come together after close to the half-way point of a three-hour evening. Only then do we smell blood, and that of the wrong man after a series of bungled plots leave the wrong son dead, at least in some eyes. Having smelled it, we wallow.

The Duke quickly follows in a scene known far better than the play itself, killed by his own lust for Gloriana, the skeletal but poisonous love procured by Vindici, disguised by losing his habitual Jesus/madman look to become an estuarine fixer out of some low budget gangster movie.

After the interval the pace hots up and the tragedy is left behind as Middleton resorts to gore-filled comedy to entertain his audience and make a few salient points about love, lust and power.

The final scene of fetishistic Bacchanal is a gem of its kind with ten deaths in a couple of minutes during which the Dukedom is swapped no fewer than four times. Following confessions from Vindici and his brother (Jamie Parker), the denouement is completely unexpected and rather implausible.

Melly Still and her designer Ti Green use every trick in the book to support the text. There is a revolving stage adorned with reproduced Old Masters and lurid computer graphics; colourful modern dress; exotic dance; loud club music but also a counter tenor; and lashings of kinky sex.

This Travelex £10 offering is a bit of rarefied fun that owes something to Hamlet but also has moments that are almost pure Carry On. It does not always make sense but tantalises with its plotting and often rich, sometimes rhyming but always highly visual poetry.

Go in with your eyes open (except when the blood flows too freely) and you will have an unusual but intoxicating evening. You will also get the chance to see Rory Kinnear doing a fine job as haunted, vengeful Vindici in three different acting styles.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher