"Dark deeds in holy places"
by Rebecca Wall for remotegoat on 18/10/12

Descending to the depths of the Curtain's Up yesterday evening the audience was lured by the sickly-sweet smell of incense, and greeted by a perfect tableau vivant of a Zurbarán scene: a monk, his head concealed by a sackcloth cowl kneeling in silent prayer before an altar bedecked with skulls and candles. It was an image that succinctly prefigured the play to follow: visually intriguing and, in our secular age, somehow repellent, a perfect mix of piety and morbidity.

The eponymous monk was, of course, Ambrosio, a Faustian figure whose moral disintegration we observe as the play unfolds in two ample acts. We next meet him as he delivers a sermon before a crowd lured as much, we suspect, by his own charisma as by the sanctity of his words. Among them is the young Antonia, an ingenue recently arrived in Madrid who is mesmerised by the monk, yet equally attracted by the charms of the dashing nobleman Lorenzo. What follows is a classic tale of a reversal of fortune, as temptation, lust, and pride overcome decency and principles.

The original work upon which this play is based was written by an author barely out of his teens in a matter of months, and like Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus it brims with the grisly exuberance of youth. While the transgressions it explores may no longer instantly shock, it still presented some uncomfortable moments on stage which offered chilling parallels with more recent cases of crimes against women. Although its pace seemed at times to lag, the plot was nevertheless gripping, complemented by an atmospheric set and fantastic costume. Performances were, however, patchy, with some cast members stumbling over lines. Others, however, were brilliant: Judy Tcherniak's sinister prioress in particular was truly terrifying. Most importantly, despite its gruesome subject matter it made me want to turn to the original text, while it provided plenty to discuss on the tube home.

Add Your review?

Have your say, add your review

Other recent reviews by Rebecca Wall
Gainsborough's Girls by Cecil Beaton
Gainsborough through Cecil Beaton’s eyes by Rebecca Wall
Dog Almighty!
An irreverent but profound performance by Rebecca Wall
1001 Nights
A storytelling tour de force by Rebecca Wall
The Bathhouse by Mayakovsky
Power corrupts, plus ça change... by Rebecca Wall
The River Girl
A Bildungsroman tale for today by Rebecca Wall