"Confusing but engaging classic drama"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 28/03/08

If you've ever seen or read Middleton's 'The Revenger's Tragedy' then you'll be aware of its fiendishly complex plot and dense Jacobean script. In Metra Theatre's production they contemporise and demystify the work (whose tale of courtly ambition and corruption is still very much prescient to our times) by dressing in their pyjamas and interjecting the occasional lullaby, thus soothing the audience with the semblance of a good-night tale, albeit one of dark matter. The bedtime story element is further enhanced by the interaction between players and audience, the latter being required to hold props and fill extra parts - particularly for the Duchess to fling her buxom self upon.

This approach springs from Metra's philosophy, drawn from Gilles Deleuze's 'Rhizome' theory, in which the original language is preserved but meaning and concept are explored in depth, outgrowing the conventional ideas of form. The acknowledgment of the judging eye of the audience is furthermore an extension of Middleton's own tendency to ironic self-reference, and serves to bring the play alive for a 21st century audience.

I can't even begin to break down the tale of megalomania, greed and bitterness that is The Revenger's Tragedy. Suffice to say the action takes place around the Duke's court and - to simplify horribly - pits the dastardly machinations of the Duke and Duchess' sons (from various marriages) against the vengeful intentions of brothers Vindici and Hippolito, angry at, amongst other things, the poisoning of Vindici's wife by the Duke nine years previously. Add some healthy doses of adultery, lust, murder, injustice, poison, disguise - and lashes of envy - and you have a classic tale, dramatically speaking, of revenge - and tragedy.

In its outrageous plot, and by the very corpse count, however, Middleton's play is one of heightened satire. In this production Metra Theatre make no attempt to moderate the humour and have produced an entertaining and amusing adaptation that yet maintains the serious investigation of human impulse and societal corruption that the story throws up.

It's true you do feel confused in parts, especially at first - so thick and fast comes the 17th century lingo - and this is off-putting initially. However the direction - and occasional explanatory asides from cast to audience - mean you are never fully lost. Once you have got used to the costume changes (each of the five actors plays multiple parts by adding to or removing accessories from their nightwear), worked out the characters, their relationships, and the various plot lines (and the working out itself is part of the entertainment), there is much good acting to be enjoyed. The cast works immensely hard, and the quirkiness of the production - fake wigs and mustaches, sudden bursts of song, bizarre death puppets, long johns et al - leaves you with a (bemused) smile on your face.

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