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Dante's Inferno: A Modern Telling

Devised by the Craft Ensemble
Craft Theatre
The Rag Factory

Dante's Inferno: A Modern Telling

Devised by the company with what is describes as “some text written by Dante Alighieri, Russell Brand, John Cage and Rocky Rodriguez, Jr”, this is not a dramatisation of Dante but rather a modern morality inspired by Dante’s great poem that presents its ideas through imaginative physical theatre based on the techniques developed by Craft.

As the audience gathers, the company is engaged in complex exercises that resemble martial arts confrontations and which, if not so precisely timed in their interaction could be painful. They are mainly in loose white or black exercise clothing, barefooted, with one actor bare-chested.

They remain so throughout the whole performance, which takes place in a white-tiled room arranged as a thrust space that is fully used. Highly stylised movement is employed throughout everything that follows, changes of scene marked by everyone careering across the space using kangaroo leaps and fast backward gambols, whilst all props are mimed.

Director Rocky Rodriguez, Jr starts off the action kneeling in the centre over a paper on which he is writing and speaking a montage of phrases around the idea that “a final thought has to be a deliberate thought that you can’t avoid saying.”

A man and a woman, later revealed to be Dante and his wife, are lying close to the audience, he expressing his love and remembering his first encounter with her smile while she assures him that “you don’t have to feel lonely any more.”

It seems an idyllic relationship, but the scenes that follow of the demands of office life and competitive pressures that lead to unfaithfulness and violence are interspersed with successive duologues in which she complains of his increasing absences and growing materialism, while he argues that he is working his butt off and does all these things to built a future of happiness.

This culmination of a modern equivalent of the deadly sins of Dante’s original sees Dante arrested. Prison is Craft Theatre’s equivalent to Dante’s “vestibule” where he meets the Virgil figure who guides him through Hell.

There is no attempt here to offer an exact equivalent to Dante’s nine circles of Hell. Instead he and Virgil revisit each of the “sins” that he has committed in powerful physical representation but not through real burning fire but the torment of his own mind for, as this modern Virgil explains to him, these are the thoughts, the guilt in your mind made manifest. We carry our own Hell around with us.

This “modern telling” does not set out to say anything very new but it outspokenly condemns 21st-century priorities, our self-centred materialism, social inequalities, lack of compassion and abuse of the planet and it does so through a language of movement of amazing daring that is wonderfully watchable.

Although it is so unrelenting that it could become repetitiously tedious were it not for its increasing complexity and the intervention of text-driven elements and one lovely musical sequence celebrating the joy and excitement of physical love in which this bold choreography reaches its climax.

These dedicated and daring performers are Helen Foster, Ryan Prescott, Helen Foster, Maria Swisher, Thomas Thoroe and Lucas John Mahoney and they dedicate their performance to the life and memory of the colleague in the ensemble, actor Kan Bonfils, who collapsed and died during rehearsals.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton