Dante’s Inferno at The Rag Factory
Tucked away off Brick Lane lies The Rag Factory. It’s easy to walk past this creative space, thinking you’ve mistakenly traipsed down the wrong street, until you stumble upon a chalked-out bill that signals you’ve actually reached your destination. On first glance it looks little more than a disused warehouse. You wonder if you should turn back – what could possibly be inside?
Inside is as stark as outside: a rehearsal space, pinned up by steel beams and tiled white, like an old garage. The seating is arranged to the side and back. At the back of the hall actors yell and murmur as they lunge at each other, like practicing ninjas. You wonder if this is part of the act. They are in fact warming their vocal and emotional ranges; it’s strange but it adds to the rawness of the production. And that’s the intention. In fact, director Rocky Rodriguez Jr tells you in the guide that you’re about to see something different to the run-of-the-mill West End show, to commit yourself and feel something. You will – but what that is depends on you.
A modern take on an ancient story, Rodriguez tells of Dante’s sorry life oppressed by a capitalised system. The success he seeks is monetary and loveless. Striving to increase his wealth, believing it key to keeping his wife, he neglects her, and loses a little more of his soul. Humanity is sacrificed; he ignores the poor, believing poverty is self-inflicted and lusts after the boss’s spoilt, unloved daughter. His routine is monotonous, monetary and mind-altering, until he attacks a homeless woman and is sent to jail, where he re-lives the hell he has been living and purges his soul.
The acting is physical and raw. Actors use fluid movements and stills, music and voice, to emote. But there’s no stage, no costumes, no set dressing. Yet we always know where we are and when the scene changes.
At the heart are connotations of social and humanitarian issues that infiltrate UK homes today, and a deep insight into the blinkered, ignorant lives we could lead, if we continue to be spurred on by materiality. It’s not a new theme, and it has been done before. However, its pertinence to society today is provocative, illustrative and brave.
Dante’s Inferno is on at Rag Factory until 1st February 2015, for further information or to book visit here.