Sex is at this play’s core. But it’s not sexy in the slightest. It’s a means of leverage, abuse, it’s a crime, a threat. Each of the 50 or so plastic sex dolls strewn across the stage make you want to stew in hot bleach. You can taste the immorality of this Vienna.

So potent, the Duke withdraws and leaves his pious deputy in charge. In his ruthless clampdown – and via an acrobatic twist of logic – he attempts to rape a nun,   a young woman desperate to spare her brother from execution.

Like the best of Shakespeare, though, this is a feat achieved through fierce dialogue, and deft delivery. For the seasoned actors in this production, its disturbing sexuality and combative dialogue are its greatest asset. Not the ludicrous, childish, unoriginal and baffling production.  The sight of Isabella (the outstanding Romola Garai) r fending off of the maddening holy gropes of the puritanical Angelo (terrifyingly meek and quietly vicious Paul Ready) is a great gun-battle of Shakespearean acting. Every ludicrous train of perverted thought beautifully conveyed. Likewise Tom Edden (off of One Man Two Guvnor’s, here as Pompey) revives even the stalest of Jacobean gags and Zubin Varla (Duke Vincentio) nicely marries the camp and the dramatic (perhaps largely due to having a voice like Kenneth Williams doing a Larry Olivier impression?)

This play’s woeful undoing, however, is its director.  Joe Hill-Gibbins appears bored by the wicked story, the handful of thrilling performances and black humour. Just has he did in Edward II at the National.  Key moments of the play are delivered backstage, or just ever so slightly out of view. Our saving grace is a member of the cast with a camera hooked up to a baffling projection system.   For large tracts of the play, nothing happens on stage, and the entire auditorium is just watching a basic projection. A screaming, furious performance from Romola Garai is essentially skyped* to us from backstage for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. If you’ve never seen a camera or a video, this might tickle you nicely. Otherwise it proves to be an absolute shafting of the theatrical experience.

The staging is at its best when simple. Two actors, in dialogue, with nothing but the quiet stage. Brilliance is conjured. The flinging of sex dolls, flickering video streams and messy direction are nothing compared to the unobstructed power of the central performances.   It’s a dark and murky play – a success, despite the best intentions of its director.
*I’ve also, incidentally, seen better camerawork from a 4 year old.

4 mice (just)   4 Meece Rating

Until 14th November
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