Given The Revenger’s Tragedy is an early seventeenth-century play I had neither read nor seen before, I found this production to be surprisingly easy to follow. Modern infusions were few and far between, and only really consisted of set pieces of music, which suited the narrative whilst providing a twenty-first century audience with something to connect the storyline to, without being overtly signposted. Overall, the cast embrace the strong emotions of their characters, thankfully without a scintilla of hamminess between them – if anything, I occasionally wished a few of them would push the boat out a little more, so to speak, but there’s a delicate balance between maintaining dramatic effect and not overdoing it in a relatively intimate venue.
The play’s title pretty much gives the basics of the plot away: Vindice (Michael Claff) sets out to seek revenge for the death of who I initially thought was his late wife (it was his fiancée, so at the risk of sounding smug, I wasn’t far off), though his methods of paying tribute to her are, to be polite, interesting. Ghastly might be a more accurate term. The salient point is he will do whatever is necessary to see his fiancée’s killer is also ‘six foot’ under. But as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof points out, the old teaching about “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, taken literally, would eventually mean “the whole world will be blind and toothless”.
There are generous amounts of fake blood on stage, and an equally generous amount of backstory – quite realistically, a decision to avenge the death of a loved one implicates the families of the concerned parties. As the Duke (Andrew Carn) is Vindice’s target, there are various members of the Duke’s court who also have their slice of the action. But, as I began by saying, working it all out does not prove to be particularly burdensome. I suggest the pared-down nature of the production, using only what props are necessary, otherwise relying on the text to drive forward the narrative without too many pops and whizzes, has something to do with that. Of course, not everything was immediately clear, but I treated it like a television murder drama – and sure enough, the narrative strands came together by curtain call.
Some of the scenes are, perhaps mercifully, very short, and at the performance I attended, the production seemed to struggle somewhat with the rapid turnaround and quick pace the play requires. Lexi Wolfe’s Castiza convincingly pushes back against a plot to have her married off to Lussurioso (Apple Lipman), the Duke’s heir apparent. The final scene – which does not, I hasten to add, involve a wedding – is altogether gruesome, and yet altogether hilarious, indulgent in dark humour whilst exposing the true intentions of those jostling for power. An unsettling but nonetheless satisfying piece of theatre.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Not seen in London for 16 years – Middleton’s hilarious and gory black comedy is often viewed as a parody of Hamlet.
Vindici, the revenger of the title, maddened by the poisoning of his wife Gloriana by the corrupt Duke, vows revenge on the Duke and his family.
Meanwhile the Duke’s son Lussurioso, relentlessly pursues Vindici’s virgin sister, Castiza – and engages a disguised Vindici and his brother Hypoloto, to assist in the seduction.
Played out in the ultra-corrupt Italian Court, The Revenger’s Tragedy is a relentless and breathtaking tale of intrigue, incest and murder.
Monday 9th – Saturday 14th January 2023