Entering into the O’Reilly stage space, and clapping eyes on the giant pink and yellow X built into centre stage, it was obvious this production had a clear vision. The marketing had been effective, and everyone entering the theatre was aware that this production was put simply Ben Jonson meets Sex Industry. So that, the brilliantly lascivious heart-shaped bed that sat smugly in centre stage really did fulfil our expectations of a 1980s porn den. Not only was the staging suitably striking but the spaces that had been created around it were intelligently considered. Alexandra Clark’s design allowed for a gallery and stairs that added a variety of levels to the performance space, providing characters with an opportunity to bounce all over the shop. Although it would have been nice if the elaborate upper gallery could have been used for more than just entrances and exits, by and large the space was employed imaginatively.
Even with such an elaborate set, Jonson’s comedy moves rapidly between a large number of locations, not all of which could be evoked with set design alone. What was perhaps most impressive about the show was the way in which the actors engaged with the static set to impress upon the audience the movement to an office, or a court room. When Volpone emerges from his bedroom into the streets of Venice, the actors marching rapidly across the front of the stage beautifully created the impression of a busy thoroughfare.
Perhaps the most important question with this particular production is how the team have managed to cohere Jonson’s comedy and their own personal vision. The lighting and sound for this production really were the glue that held this production together. Dougie Perkins and Nathan Klein, who created the lighting and the music respectively, added a slick, polished feel to everything. The live funk band that intermittently piped up immediately lifted the energy; I will say now that, yes there is dancing, no it is not always in time, but at least it’s all very gung-ho!
With so much going on in this production, it is easy to let the acting fade into the background. Ben Cohen, as Volpone, had the unsettling charisma and ever so slightly cringey dance moves that I imagine are a prerequisite of any diehard porn king, and his energy and gleeful amorality were thrilling to watch. There were a few issues with diction, when he got a bit overexcited… and I’m sure a few good jokes were lost as a result, which is a pity. Voltore, Corvaccio, Corvino, played by Megan Cullen, Will Stanford and XX respectively sparkled as the hoodwinked trio and as an ensemble perhaps stole the show, there was not a weak link, and to be honest their dynamic performance was my favourite element of the play. Mosca was an interesting one, Beatrice Xu seemed to lack a certain Machiavellian ruthlessness that makes the character so compelling. Equally, there were moments when Xu seemed to not quite grasp the implications of what she was saying. Her performance was spirited, but the finer nuances of the character were notably absent in a production of such high calibre.
Nevertheless, by the final dance piece (Yes that’s right, more dancing), it was clear that the cast were having a jolly good time. The overwhelming impression from the production is the polish and cohesion of all the separate elements. This is a thoroughly enjoyable play, and I had a great time, anyone that has a free evening in 7th week should make sure they don’t miss this excellent production.