It’s a Friday night in a darkened room above an Islington pub and Mark Field (as Vindice) is introducing his audience to the intrigues of a Jacobean court, styled as greed-driven 1980s Wall Street. It’s all a little bit Hamlet meets Ashes to Ashes. Vindice and Hippolito (Henry Regan) hastily hide the evidence of their plotting (skull and all) from their suspicious mother, then make their way to court – a hellish, amoral world, which resembles a never-ending retro fancy dress party.
Vindice’s transformation from angsty loner to man of the world could seem a little overdone – blonde wig, sunglasses, white suit – but the reaction it provokes gets the audience very much on side. We laugh all the way to the play’s bloody conclusion, caught up in a web of revenge and retribution and complicit in its unravelling. In parts of the last act, Vindice takes a seat among us, watching the culmination of his plans, with an apparently similar fascination. It is the variety of Field’s performance which propels the show – at times dominating the stage, physically and vocally, at others standing back in the shadows. You can’t ever be sure if Vindice is a tortured soul or meddling jester and this is precisely his appeal. The conclusion may be that if he is a sociopath, faced with this society we might be too.
The supporting cast is equally strong, each actor taking on multiple roles with great success, adding to the ensemble feel. Nicholas Kime carries off both juvenile rapist and modest maiden brilliantly (as well as a neon lycra leotard). Christine Oram as the Duchess is a formidable presence, but she also brings alive the minor part of a prison guard and ensures that the ‘seduction’ scene, between Vindice’s mother and her son, is one of the best of the play. The decision to double up the parts of the Duke and Antonio is also inspired. Steve Fortune differentiates both admirably, until the final scene when the parallels between the two become clear and one regime seems set to replace another. Above all, however, Jack Morris’ Lussurioso encapsulates the moral turpitude of the court. He is sleazy and repulsive even without the trappings of the period setting and the characterisation of his brief reign as duke as a drug-fuelled nightclub sequence seems a little unnecessary.
This is true of Nicholas Thomspon’s show as a whole – it is carried by the talent of the cast and clever direction, rather than impressive design. The production and theatre is a hidden gem and the play fresh and youthful, and consistently entertaining.
The Revenger’s Tragedy will be performed at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 29th September. Tickets from £10.