Singing conmen, audience participation and the odd impression (including a Steptoe and Son-alike) during the first half of Greg Hersov's playful production of Volpone only serve to highlight the modern relevance of this play, written in 1606.
The theme of greed strikes you as you enter the round via Lez Brotherston's beautiful set design complete with water, statues and gold. Enter Volpone, (Gerard Murphy), the fox - a corrupt conman who enjoys fooling folk into parting with their cash. With his team of players and sidekick, Mosca (Stephen Noonan) he feigns illness so they will vie to be his sole heir. Charlatans and crooks queue up like lambs to the slaughter, lured into this money trap.
As Volpone becomes more adept at 'the con' his greed turns to lust and his attention moves to the beautiful but unwilling Celia (Miranda Colchester), enabling the audience to explore the blacker aspects of Ben Johnson's timeless comedy.
Murphy strides onto the stage and oozes confidence as the millionaire trickster. But it is Noonan who steals the show as the malevolent Mosca with his array of disguises in accent and movement. Sarah Desmond, Tom Godwin and Dominic Burgess are the all singing, all dancing, troupe and invest their roles with so much mischief and humour that you cannot fail to be entertained by their many gags.
The joy of this production is the sheer energy of Hersov's direction. He has the actors climbing balconies, dancing, singing, running and even has Volpone in a motorised wheelchair! The performers rise to this challenge and gamely involve the audience at every opportunity with relish.
During some scenes there is too much happening at once, but the confident cast carry these flaws and like the fox himself, turn them into gold. At times purists may cringe at the inclusion of the odd modern accent, comedy nun or nurse's outfit but, on the night I went, the audience enjoyed themselves and were buzzing with anticipation by the time that act two began.
There are serious themes explored here such as greed and lust but instead of hammering the audience over the head with a textbook version of divine decadence, Hersov's main aim is to provide us with a zany, sometimes dark but always accessible, fun evening out and he achieves that wonderfully.
- Glenn Meads