The second part of the Old Red Lion Theatre’s Rep Season is a production of Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy set in the 1980’s. I was intrigued by the timelessness of the questions the play has the power to raise both now and 400 years ago when it was written, particularly those concerning women. The play seems an appropriate compliment to Henry V went into this one wondering if it would live up to expectations.
The play is accurately titled: a tragic tale of revenge, following Vindice who seeks to avenge the death of his love Gloriana – who has been poisoned by the Duke for rejecting his advances. However revenge permeates the consciousness of the whole play, not just our protagonist, many members of the Duke’s rather loathsome family desire to settle their own grievances. There is disguise, adultery, and many humorous moments offset by more sinister ones as we follow the characters towards what seems an inevitable conclusion. Though it would be possible to play this with deep and sombre tone, the occasional light-heartedness makes it very enjoyable and the 80’s boom is a surprisingly accurate setting. The Gordon Gekko style costume for Lussurioso accentuates the greed, ambition, and ruthlessness which persist in the wretched family, and the bubbly pop songs contrast with serious crimes.
Though initially both confusing and melodramatic once the play progresses it is a highly entertaining adaption. Despite the many names and intertwining relationships to keep track of there is no confusion, even with the small cast. The desire to dissect the show afterwards is, in my experience a very good sign, and I was particularly drawn to discussion of the bold choice of casting Nicholas Kime as rapist son and the virginal daughter. Productions that leave you desperate to commend them are productions you want to see, and this is definitely one of them. Despite sweating our way through the second half (which I hope was due to an air-conditioning fault rather than some profound directorial choice) the action was gripping enough to withstand the heat.
The cast maintain the high standard set in Henry V, and are definitely an ensemble to keep an eye out for. The high quality of Henry V has continued and I am utterly enamoured with this Rep Season. Go and see both – it would be a tragedy not to.
**** (4 Stars)