The audience enter the Black Box Studio, York to a vibrant club scene, with pounding electronic music, girls dancing on chairs barefoot and a lit-up bar. The actors repeat sequences, establishing certain tensions and characters immediately, through dance, ordering shots and snorting cocaine. Such is the opening of Mark France and Well-fangled Theatre‘s production of Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy.
We’re immediately introduced to the aptly named revenger Vindice (Jamie Smelt) and his brother Hippolito (Jonathan Bedford), whose revenge against the Duke (Joe Osborne) pushes the action of the play along. Both Smelt and Bedford are direct and their dialogue is always smooth and never bogged down as it occasionally feels with other members of the cast. They don’t quite have us rooting for them though, with Smelt often teetering between a half-mad villain and a bumbling ‘amateur revenger’ who is making this up as he goes.
The characters in this production need sharpening for the full effect of the Jacobean thriller. Victoria Delaney’s Duchess, for example, looks the part, but falls short of the venomous Duchess we’d hope for. The decision to switch Ambitiosa’s gender (Anjali Vyas-Brannick) was a good one, so that her and her brother Supervacuo (Sam Hill) become a colour-coordinated, conniving duo. They provide comedy throughout, but aren’t charismatic enough for this take on the characters to really come together. However both Lussurioso (Luke Broughton) and Junior (Robbie Nestor) were fantastically sinister villains and Hattie Patten-Chatfield was a refreshingly tough yet endearing Castiza.
The movement and flexibility on stage of both the cast and the set were the highlight of this production. With a set that could be twisted and moved at ease to create offices, bars, back streets and night clubs, the cast clearly enjoyed themselves in such a versatile theatre and with France’s and set designer Simon Jarvis’ fun yet always relevant modernisations. The costuming from Imogen Peddle was always revealing and added a lot to the characterisation of each cast member and particularly memorable was the final mask sequence (devised by Audrie Woodhouse), with its Halloween masks and circus music that was perfectly unsettling and repellent from the start.
The Revenger’s Tragedy is a long play filled with exposition, something which felt very noticeable as the first act came to a close. While this slick cast and France’s urban take on the play keep us entertained throughout, I would have liked to see France really delve into the dark recesses of this play. His modern setting filled with drugs, kinky sex, violence and excess certainly made room for a bloody, macabre retelling, but only really skimmed the surface.
Well-fangled Theatre’s production of The Revenger’s Tragedy runs until Saturday 5th October at the Black Box Studio at the University of York, you can purchase tickets here.