Volpone at the Brockley Jack Studio
Director Celia Dorland pays homage to Depression-era screwball comedies in this new adaptation of Ben Jonson’s Volpone, now on at The Brockley Jack Studio in South London. The play is a Jacobean satire on avarice with titular character, the wealthy Volpone (the Fox, played by Steve Hope-Wynne), and his cunning servant Mosca (the Fly), plotting to part sycophantic fortune hunters from their gold and dignity.
Rising star Pip Brignall is wonderfully unctuous as Mosca and plays well to the character’s insectile traits, with a hissing titter and much impish hand-rubbing as he flatters his way into the trust of the fortune hunters. Ava Amande gives social climber Lady Would-Be a brassy sheen with an East End accent and braying laugh, while Rupert Bates is convincing as he speaks directly to the audience-cum-jury as the unscrupulous lawyer Voltore (the Vulture).
It’s difficult to tell whether the adoption of a comedic style typical of Depression-era cinema is a deliberately ironic nod to the play’s 1920s setting and the looming spectre of the 1929 crash. It does mean, however, that the actors can fully exploit the deliberately camp – at times almost panto – comic traditions of the period, which gives this Volpone the feel of farce rather than satire. This approach facilitates exaggerated performances that allow an accessibility and immediacy to the Jacobean language that might otherwise be missed in a more serious performance. The flip side is that it puts the plight of the more serious characters – Celia, for example, played by Siobhan Gerrard – in the shade, impeding the moral sympathies of the audience and thereby blunting Jonson’s satirical edge.
To characterise this production as a Renaissance-inspired “Carry On up the Rialto”, however, would be unfair. The intimacy of the venue is fully exploited, with the audience both implicated in and censured for the mischief unfolding on stage, as actors make eye contact with, give asides to and dance past amused viewers. The many genuinely funny moments, simple but effective staging and a strong ensemble cast bring fresh and effervescent life to a memorable adaptation of Jonson’s classic satire.
J A Clarke
Volpone is on at the Brockley Jack Studio from 29th September until 17th October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.