Halloween Horror

The Revenger’s Tragedy, Hoxton Hall London, 31 October 2012

The faded splendour of Hoxton Hall in Shoreditch seemed an ideal location to stage a late-night Halloween performance of a gory Jacobean revenge tragedy. The presence of a minor celebrity in the form of Jamie Winstone only added to the initial appeal of a production advertised with the help of a smart website featuring a blood-splattered logo.

The production had some good points. It made use of both the hall’s high stage and the area in front to bring the action close to the audience. At the start, Vindice (Tom Mothersdale) sat amid a chaos of upturned furniture and listed names of characters whose faces appeared on small video screens as he outlined his plan to revenge the death of his fiancée. He was portrayed as the puppet master of events, cueing lighting effects and other events with a sweep of his hand. His asides were spotlit to make them more effective.

Disguised in a natty suit with bowtie and cane, and with his voiced changed to a whiny nasal tone, Vindice fooled Lussurioso (Nana Amoo-Gottfried) into thinking he was a pimp could procure a woman for him. It was also interesting to detect in Vindice an attempt by the author to paint his character with shades of Hamlet.

The puppet skull lady, whose poisoned lips killed the priapic Duke (Vincenzo Nicoli), looked suitably scary. The poisoning was followed by a kicking and the Duke’s tongue was cut out for good measure. This was a promising start to the expected gore.

With audience and cast close together in an intimate space, it was gratifying that they were able to deliver some surprises. A curtain at the side of the auditorium was pulled aside to reveal Gratiana (Sarah Bell) sitting at a table. This took the audience off guard, as she had been there since the hall had filled with spectators.

Despite having a cast of nine, which with some doubling would have allowed a fuller production, there was some considerable cutting, motivated solely by a desire to shorten the play. Unfortunately, less did not mean more.

The characters of Ambitioso and Supervacuo and their attendant subplots were cut. The subplot of Lussurioso’s release and the execution of Junior was cut: this meant that 3.1-3.3 were excised with 3.4 showing a single officer garrotting Junior (Danny Horn).

The sequence establishing the Duke’s need of a pandar was cut, so that his request for such services came as a surprise.

The comic sequence in which Vindice was hired to kill himself was removed and an invented dumbshow showing the burial of the Duke’s body meant that it could not be used to set up the escape of Piato. But the onstage presence of the Duke’s coffin did provide a macabre setting for Spurio (Chris Jared) and the Duchess (Bridgitta Roy) to make out.

The structural cuts had an effect on the final massacre. To begin, Hippolito (Jack Hardwick) and Vindice killed all those present and turned on the new Duke, Lussurioso, stabbing him and gouging his eyes so that he could not see. The characters comprising the second group of would-be assassins pretending to be masquers were cut from the production, so that a single random reveller wandered in on the scene of carnage. Lussurioso recovered sufficiently to blame the ‘masquers’ for the deadly attack and the totally innocent bystander was taken away, with Lussurioso’ blindness meaning that he could not correct the wrongful arrest.

Vindice and Hippolito admitted that they had murdered the Duke and for their pains the new Duke ordered their deaths. A gun was pointed at Vindice as he delivered his final speech and a concluding bang signified his execution.

But ultimately the production was let down by its faults.

Chief among these was Jaime Winstone as Castiza. On her first appearance she gabbled her lines as if she were in a speed-reading contest. Throughout the rest of the performance she spoke without feeling. Casting her as a virginal aristocrat seemed a mistake.

The programme and publicity material created the expectation of a gore fest, and the Halloween special performance also promised horror. But no stage blood was used in the production, only a derisory fake gouged eye, which was a severe let-down. The production budget did not run to laundry or a change of costume so that the violence consisted of shrieks of agony without commensurate visual impact.

The only real victim of savage excision was the story.

The performance ended with a desultory curtain call where even the cast looked as underwhelmed as the audience.

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