Roses fall through a spotlight one by one onto a cracked and broken mosaic. This simple and powerful opening suggests a strong vision for the production, but it is a vision that, at times, wavers. That said, this is a play determined to leave an impression.
Contemporary with Shakespeare’s later works, The Revenger's Tragedy is a powerful Jacobean revenge tragedy in which it seems that every character has a reason to seek revenge on every other. Stephen Tompkinson, of Ballykissangel and Brassed Off fame, plays the central role of Vindice, seeking revenge against the Duke for the deaths of both his father and his lover. With the aid of his brother he finds a role at court, disguised as the sleek Piato, and is given the job of soliciting his own sister’s virginity for the Duke’s son.
Tompkinson plays the dual roles of Vindice and Piato convincingly, although in the first half he is more engaging when playing the evil and slightly camp character of Piato than the duller, and more worthy Vindice. Thankfully, in the second half, this latter character gains more stage time and therefore more life, carrying the audience along with him as his plans come to fruition.
The rest of the cast do well, although some seem to struggle with the iambic verse of the play, at times making it hard to tell what is being said. The three step-sons are suitably threatening as modern ‘youths’ and Stephen Hudson's Spurio, the Duke’s bastard son who constantly changes his allegiance, is compelling and believable.
Jonathan Moore’s direction is accomplished and makes great use of the Exchange’s distinctive performance space, and David Blight’s stage design dovetails with the performances as the contemporary and classical touches blend seamlessly together. Unfortunately, this mixture of old vs. new is not so convincing in the more general staging of the play.
The use of snippets of modern music works well in parts, but occasionally it is intrusive and seems to have been inserted to no great purpose. In addition, the tendency to overplay the lighter moments, at times slipping into outright farce, make it harder for the darker scenes to have a lasting impact.
Despite these sometimes jarring variations in tone, this is an impressive production with powerful performances that make it well worth seeing.
- Calum Kerr