The endless carnival of decay
Cheek by Jowl with renowed company of Piccolo Teatro di Milano stage at the Barbican Theatre a carnivalesque dance of death with their first Italian production of The Revenger’s Tragedy.
Per la regia di Declan Donnellan (Leone d’Oro 2016) e Nick Ormerod, Cheeck by Jawl in collaborazione con la Compagnia del Piccolo Teatro di Milano portano in scena a Londra un adattamento di The Revenger’s Tragedy di Thomas Middleton. E il palco del Barbican diventa una carnevalesca danza macabra che non lascerà scampo a nessuno dei personaggi
The adaptation of Thomas Middleton’s 1606 Jacobean revenge tragedy, performed in Italian using a text by Stefano Massini, is directed by Declan Donnellan (Golden Lion 2016) and designer Nick Ormerod.
Bold, excessive, gory and not rarely splatter, in this feast of nastiness no one is saved. Certainly not the Duke of an unspecified Italian court who, nine years before, had raped and poisoned Gloriana. Not her fiancée Vindice, who has been planning revenge for a good nine years. Not the Duke’s sons, who spend their times trying to get rid of each others in order to grab power. And what to say about the Duke’s second wife, who wishes him dead but prefers to give vent to her hatred by getting in Spurio’s bed, the Duke’s illegitimate son? From this carnival of viciousness, not even Vindice’s pious mother is saved; she rather decides to give up her daughter’s honour in change of a handful of money and a string of pearls.
The plot gets grotesque – and therefore comical, as everyone’s plans inexorably fail, which still does not deplate their thirst for money, blood, lust and revenge in a race for power that gets wilder and wilder.
However, the music by Gianluca Misiti creates a sinister soundscape that seems to call for darkness and nostalgia and a shiver of dread. It clashes with the gleefully macabre attitude of the characters suggesting a deep uncertainty which goes beyond the carnivalesque. In addition, during the bloody scene in which the Duke is tortured, Donnellan choses a live video camera to render in excruciating details the Duke’s cut tongue and eyelids, complete with blood spilling on the chair. No wonder laughers remain across the throat. There is no psychological depth in the characters, it is the story itself and the lively relationship between the actors on stage that reveal the dramatic spiral of decadence of the world depicted.
Middleton and Shakespeare were contemporaries at a time of growing religious conflict and social unease, a condition exacerbated by the outbreak of plagues. In the absence of political stability, the moral decay of a society obsessed with status and power became central in Middleton production. Unlike Shakespeare, Middleton remained independent, able to write for whichever company hired him. Hence Middleton’s harsher, unfiltered tones. A style which feels particularly effective today, and impressively relevant.
With a blast of strong performances by the charismatic young actors of Piccolo Teatro di Milano, the piece is an energetic and unsettling portrayal of the human’s yearning for power and revenge, which spans centuries and arrives – identical, to our days.
Emblematically, the piece ends with the same gleefully grotesque dance which had opened the scene, as to remind us how deeply rooted revenge is in human nature, no matter how civilised we think we have become.
Silk Street, London
from Wednesday 4 to Saturday 7 March 2020, 7.00 pm
The Revenger’s Tragedy
presented by the Barbican
Cheek by Jowl and Piccolo Teatro di Milano – Teatro d’Europa
in a co-production with Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione
adaptation Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
Italian version Stefano Massini
director Declan Donnellan
design Nick Ormerod
lighting Judith Greenwood and Claudio De Pace
music Gianluca Misiti
assistant director Francesco Bianchi
movement Alessio Maria Romano
Performers Ivan Alovisio, Marco Brinzi, Fausto Cabra, Flavio Capuzzo Dolcetta, Christian Di Filippo, Raffaele Esposito, Ruggero Franceschini, Pia Lanciotti, Errico Liguori, Marta Malvestiti, David Meden, Massimiliano Speziani, Beatrice Vecchione and Marouane Zotti