John Gielgud brightened post-war London with a glamorous production of Otway's 1682 Restoration tragedy, notable for its magnificent 17th century sets and costumes, which my elders always said were a sight to behold. The production was a huge sucess.
But this current version of the play at the Swan trudges wearily along the welltrodden path of modernism. Look for Gielgud's Venice of noble architecture, space and sumptuous costumes and you will be wasting your time. Once again (as in so much here at Stratford in recent days), the directorial brief seems to have been based on an insistence that everything must be dismal and dreary with the various characters clad in stray garments from the local charity shop.
The programme note is worth quoting: "Describing this production as 'Restoration Noir', director Prasanna Puwanarajah was influenced by the Retro-Fururist, Cyberpunk films and cartoons of his childhood in the 80s.'' There is more of this verbiage referring to punk rock in the Eighties and its effect upon Eighties society, plus a trendy little reference to the play as a "she-tragedy".
So what has all this to do with Otway's 17th century theatrical masterpiece? Very little as far as I could see. The dialogues are in place but the lines are so heavily underlined with bellowing and screaming that vowels and consonants are continually blurred as villains in red T-shirts shriek out their murderous intentions, so that it is not until you reach part two that the stage calms down, thus giving us some notion of what the plot is about. Puwanarajah and co. may well have had had fun endorsing all this carry-on in the rehearsal room, but people around me seemed to spend much of the evening with their noses in the script trying to make sense of what was going on from the plot neatly precised in the programme.
The play as it stands is in great need of judicious cutting. It is too long and thus overweight thus the narrative thread frequently risks being swamped. Briefly, Jaffeir, a young Venetian nobelman (Michael Grady Hall) whose idea of nobility under Puwanarajah's direction is barely evident,and who is dressed in a Sunday morning tatty leisure shirt and holiday slacks, has secretly married Belvedira (Jodie McNee) a wild looking female, who steps into the plot wearing (as you may well have guessed) a spiky blonde coiffure apparently caught unawares by a high wind, tatty jeans, bovver boots and a nondescript poverty-stricken coat.
Belvedira is high-born (you would never guess) and is accompanied by her senator father Priuli (Les Dennis - yes, the TV comic and game show presenter in a black Crombie overcoat and patent shoes).
Suddenly the couple's secret is out. Jaffeir asks Les Dennis (sorry, Priuli) for help but is refused. But there is platting afoot by Jaffeir's mate and suddenly out of the shadows steps a dominatrix carrying spanking gear, which underlines corruption in the city since a senator is involved. Throughout the evening you will look in vain for the Venice Gielgud conjured up so marvellously.
And should you detect a note of relief on Belvedia's face as she meets her end and so leaves us - well, as far as this maladroit production is concerned, it is perfectly understandable.
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Jun 6, 2019|
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