'Nine years vengeance crowd into a minute,' muses the vigilante Vindice as he waits for the Duke to kiss poisoned lipstick from the skull of his late fiancée. Truncating Thomas Middleton's satirical gorefest and stuffing it into a Victorian music hall, this patchy production captures the headlong adrenaline rush of revenge and the camp pleasures of the Jacobean pile-up genre. But it risks sacrificing too many plot virgins along the way.
Director Suba Das wants to play theatrical games for which his production hasn't the space. Hunched in a book-stuffed garret, Tom Mothersdale's Vindice opens the play as a sort of Italian Raskolnikov – an impoverished student who feverishly casts himself as a social reformer as well as a revenger. In the first half, he is also the puckish director of the tragedy, tearing back the red theatre curtain to display a tableau of the court he's setting out to destroy. Here, flickering telly sets, exaggerated sound effects and a ghostly voice with a chronic case of the echoes just distract from the grotesque language.
After 'Edwardian cocktails' – drunk in a Punchdrunk-aping immersive 'performance bar' – the second half goes all-out with the black velvet and blacker humour, and is the more forceful for it. It's hard not to be entertained by a court that makes the denizens of Elsinore look like 'The Darling Buds of May', and Das has fun with the play's atmosphere of crazed lust: in one scene, the duke's widow has sex with her stepson on top of his father's coffin.
But the intimate surroundings call for far more subtlety with the verse-speaking; as Verdice's virtuous young sister Castiza, Jaime Winstone is the worst offender. To borrow a few images from Middleton, this production is strong on angry froth, but not so deft at picking open hell.
On November 2 and 9, the show will be followed by 'Sweet Revenge', Time Out Live's special post-show event featuring celebrated cabaret and music acts including Rebekah Delgado and Marcel Lucont.
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