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Theatre Review: The Revenger's Tragedy at Nottingham Playhouse

3 November 16 words: Molly Coffey

Tarantino meets Hamlet was Fiona Buffini’s vision for Nottingham Playhouse’s final instalment of their Vengeance Season, as 400-year-old revenge tragedy takes an electric slide into the seventies…

photo: Robert Day

Do not be fooled by the seventeenth-century throne, skull and classical music on entering The Revenger’s Tragedy. Soon, T. Rex’s 20th Century Boy is on, and protagonist Vindice takes to the stage in fancy denim flares to lament the loss of his lover, Gloriana… and he looks ordinary compared to the garishly glittered characters.

Our more-than-subtly-named antihero seeks the death of the old Duke, who poisoned and raped Gloriana when she refused his advances. As he literally stares death in the face we are reminded of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but Vindice doesn’t hang about like the Prince of Denmark; within minutes he has hatched the first of the play’s many revenge plans. What unfolds is a test of the individual’s moral code as he takes justice into his own hands.

The play has all the ingredients for a bloodthirsty Jacobean tragedy: murder, incest, adultery, disguise, undertones of necrophilia and a severed head as the cherry on the carnage. Action is served up by a colourful array of villains who inhabit a grotesque and superficial world. They are self-serving, materialistic and possessed by ambition, so we as spectators are more than satisfied to see them get what they deserve. Neil Murray’s extravagant and timeless set is the perfect backdrop for our glam-rock baddies whilst Jon Nicholls’ soundscape is also a fundamental presence in this production. Tunes from Sweet, T.Rex and Bowie transport us to the seventies and the sound of a “scraped, banged and shaken” electric guitar intensifies the drama.

If it isn't clear already that Buffini is holding a mirror up to the ungoverned seventies celebrity culture, we meet baddest of the bunch, Duke, who does more than remind us of Gary Glitter. When he makes room for two school-girl fans on the end of his bed, the play reaches a darker realm and forces us to realise the camouflage that celebrity can provide. We enjoy lighter moments with the camp and conscienceless Lussurioso brought to life by the energy, talent and intelligence of Declan Perring. The Duke’s son and heir leads a joyous dance-off to Walter Murphy’s A Fifth of Beethoven providing much needed laughter.

Isabel Adams’ Catiza is astute and impassioned. When faced with the callous and the corrupt, she stands up for what she believes in - symbolic of the young and politically fired-up generation of today. The play is a visual delight, with humour and horror perfect for the Halloween season. Some of the characters aren't as filled-out as the revival requires but nonetheless Nottingham Playhouse’ Revenger’s Tragedy doesn't lack force or flair.

The Revenger’s Tragedy is running at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 12 November. Get tickets here.

Nottingham Playhouse website

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