The Revenger's Tragedy

A new version by Jesse Berger, freely adapted from the original text by Thomas Middleton and Cyril Tourneur, or Anonymous
Red Bull Theater
Red Bull Theater, New York

The Revenger's Tragedy Credit: Samantha Moranville

Nobody could fault the ambition of Jesse Berger and his Red Bull Theater company. Faced with a lockdown and without recordings to bolster their online presence, the creative team has chosen to re-create past successes using Zoom.

To follow up a joyous version of The Government Inspector, the company has revived and reinvented The Revenger’s Tragedy, originally produced on stage in 2005.

Once again, Berger directs a cast of no fewer than 18, which includes several members from that original production. They compress all of the complexity and convoluted drama of a classic of the Jacobean stage into two hours, while wringing every drop of comedy from the text.

One of the pleasures of these presentations is the degree to which the actors and drama are staged, bucking the current online trend for talking heads that are rarely animated and typically seem under-rehearsed, failing to take the medium seriously.

There are costumes up to a point, a fantastic soundscape designed by Daniel Levy and lashings of stage blood to complement some excellent acting.

This is far from a perfect experience, which is inevitable. Occasionally, actors find themselves speaking into a void, before realising that their microphones need to be turned on, while the odd cue is jumped or line botched.

However, nobody can fault the enthusiasm and, although many viewers might get a little lost in the complexity of a fiendish plot, the experience is consistently enjoyable, from the opening scene in which Claire Lautier as the seductive Duchess of Venice seduces her bastard stepson, played by Jason C Brown, to an act of incest.

This sets the scene for much illicit sexuality, almost always summarily punished, never more spectacularly than when Geraint Wyn Davies playing the Duke gets his comeuppance in one of the most (in)famous scenes in all of theatre.

The plotting and counter-plotting generally centre on the Revenger himself, Vindice played with the perfect combination of cynicism, malice and dark humour by Matthew Rauch who, when disguised, somewhat disconcertingly looks exactly like Bono, without sharing the popstar’s charitable tendencies.

While nobody could claim that an online experience can compete with a night out with this wonderful New York company in a theatre, this gory but satisfying production, using Zoom far more intelligently than almost all of the competition, is great fun and well worth catching.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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