VOLPONE: Ben Jonson
RSC: The Swan
Runs: 3h 05m, one interval. Till Sat 12 September
Tkts: 0844 800 1110
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 15 07 15
Just as it should be – or even better.
What a huge delight to see a production of a great Jonson comedy by a director who totally gets how Jonson works. Trevor Nunn understands the heady but dreadfully tricky mix of techniques Jonson employs – satire, complex and impious plotting, broad comedy and underpinning all great poetic control of language. From the toweringly powerful opening line – ‘Good morning to the day, and next my gold’ Nunn and his team mine every ounce of theatricality in the play, revelling in Jonson’s celebration of the act of performance.
It works beautifully in the Swan, where actors don’t have to push too hard to make the comedy work. They are larger than life, sure, but they are always in control. Jonson believed the stage was like a distorting mirror – you pull the character traits around to release the comedy. In this way the characters remain rooted in our real world, crucial if the satire is to work. And it works all the better in the contemporary setting.
Henry Goodman is a superb Volpone. As an actor, he shares the Jonson-Volpone mercurial wit. Jonson’s villains are uncomfortable for us – we like them because they make us laugh, but we know we shouldn’t like them because they’re Bad. Gauging the tone perfectly, when Volpone attempts rape, Goodman ensures he loses our sympathy. He trusts the playwright to do his job.
Dangerously casting Mosca from a minority ethnic group, Nunn raises the issue of race and oppression-servility. We cannot be entirely comfortable with this Volpone-Mosca relationship; the production, then, is always edgy. Orion Lee gives a charming and graceful performance; his fluid physicality gives Mosca a vulnerability that sets up a thrilling tension with the wickedness of his subversive invention.
Nunn direction is sure-footed. And it all sits wonderfully within Stephen Brimson Lewis’s simple setting, which also captures the delight in witty (and digital) invention.
Andy Apollo – Bonario
Sheila Atim- Assistant to Lady Politic Would-Be
Ankur Bahl – Androgyno
Guy Burgess – Judge/Merchant
Geoffrey Freshwater – Corbaccio
Henry Goodman – Volpone
Marcus Griffiths – Commandatori
Rhiannon Handy – Celia
Simon Hedger – Judge
Julian Hoult – Castrone
Matthew Kelly – Corvino
Jonathan Key – Nano
Orion Lee – Mosca
Annette McLaughlin – Lady Politic Would-Be
Steven Pacey – Sir Politic Would-Be
Miles Richardson – Voltore
Richard Rees – Judge
Colin Ryan – Peregrine
Nav Sidhu – Notary
Gabby Wong – Assistant to Lady Politic Would-Be
Director – Trevor Nunn
Designer – Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting – Tim Mitchell
Music – Steven Edis
Sound – Fergus O’Hare
Movement – Lynne Page
Fight Director – Terry King
Video – Nina Dunn