This production of Volpone is, I suspect, either loved or loathed by its audiences. This is a seventeenth century text (re)set in the early twentieth century, with only very minor amendments, mostly to remove minor characters such as unnamed servants, merchants and court officials – I hasten to add that no cuts where conspicuous by their absence. The absurdity of the script left largely unchanged but apparently relevant to another setting more than 300 years after its first London performances either adds to the enjoyment of the show, or otherwise over-complicates matters. For instance, did tinder-boxes and toothpicks really have the same relevance in the 1600s that it did in the 1920s? An ‘inventory of parcels’ does not, it turns out, have anything to do with postal or courier deliveries. ‘Parcels’ is better interpreted ‘items’, and so for the 1920s (let alone our own generation), the words ‘of parcels’ are entirely redundant. And so on, and so forth.
There isn’t, mercifully, much time to consider very many linguistic matters of this kind, as the play moves quickly. So quickly that there were certain lines I simply had to let go over my head: I am not, for instance, all that familiar with Greek mythology. It’s not quite a British farce play, but this doesn’t stop Cecilia Dorland’s company from energetic and exaggerated expression and form to maximise comic effect.
Volpone (Steve Hope-Wynne) was not as dastardly as I had expected. He is indeed the ageing aristocrat who has deduced that more than a few of his ‘friends’ are actually really only acquaintances who are friendly to him because they hope to be beneficiaries in his will. Here, though, he comes across more as someone who just wants to be left alone rather than someone who truly wants to outwit the greedy.
Of all the fortune peddlers, Lady Would-Be (Ava Amande) is the most astonishing. She seems to spout nonsense, even getting her literary references muddled, much to the displeasure of Volpone, who eventually covers his ears in a desperate attempt to stop her incessant ramblings from penetrating him any further. Also worthy of note is Anna Buckland’s Avocatore – that is, court judge – dispensing justice while clearly under the influence (bottle in hand is as about as unsubtle as possible). What would otherwise have seemed a lazy and convenient ending is instead made hysterical.
It’s Pip Brignall’s Mosca, though, that holds the show together. From that first wide grin at the top of the show to the very end, he turned out to be a hugely entertaining sidekick to the title lead role, cunning and convincing throughout.
This is a relatively faithful rendering of an oft-performed comedy. (And for those familiar with the plot, here, the darting fly is heard but not seen.) This production certainly does Ben Jonson’s unpredictable and witty script justice, and serves as a reminder that fighting fire with fire has tumultuously fiery consequences. The well-known Epilogue is omitted, but no instruction to “fare jovially, and clap your hands” was required. We applauded a job well done, out of our own freewill.
Review By Chris Omaweng
Volpone, or the Fox by Ben Jonson
presented by Scena Mundi Theatre Company
directed by Cecilia Dorland
The Twenties are back with a blast, and with something different, as The Jack Studio swings to the rhythms and freedom of the post-war jazz scene. Ben Jonson’s early 1600’s classical comedy “VOLPONE, or The Fox” is being catapulted into the rich, exuberant and flashy world of the early 1920’s Venetian social scene.
Volpone is a rich and idle Venetian with one passion, his gold, and a cruel desire to expose the greed of his fellow citizens. With the assistance of his servant and co-conspirator Mosca, he pretends to be on death’s door in order to cozen the greedy parasites who hope to inherit his fortune. But the scavengers should beware the wily old fox… who in turn should beware Mosca the Fly
Ben Jonson’s exuberant satire of human greed is a feast of language and a triumphant ode to the art of acting and the misguided lure of riches. Will your sympathies lie with the deceiver – or will they lie with the parasite? Watch treachery rewarded, before poetic justice engulfs both knaves and dupes.
Fresh from their stunning 5 star acclaimed Spring season Sad stories of the Death of Kings: Richard II & Edward II in St.Bartholomew the Great, and their headlining the Ventnor Fringe Festival, Scena Mundi are diving into classic comedy giving it their own unique twist. With a solid reputation for combining beautiful and clever choreography, delectable costume design and bespoke music, this company is guaranteed to bring something innovative and imaginative to Jonson’s urban comedy.
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
29th September to 17th October 2015