Camden Fringe 2012
A Jacobean state of mind – Ben Jonson’s Volpone is cast as second production for new theatre company Fire Under the Horizon
Kris Hallett’s Volpone is a modern, sexually-charged display, with loud electronic music, simulated oral sex, trance movements, roguishness and seduction. Not a cardboard cut-out Venetian canal in sight, but a sparsely-furnished set: a pink/purple bed, and a damning picture of Hieronymus Bosch’s Haywain Triptych hanging against a charcoal background – an appropriate backdrop for Jonson’s blacker-than-black comedy.
First performed in 1606, the play is about a coterie of greedy people, single-minded in the pursuit of one inheriting all Volpone’s riches when he dies. Each stop by in turn to visit him on his ‘deathbed’, gift in hand and suitably sycophantic, unaware this is nothing more than a ruse on the part of the all-too-healthy Volpone and his conniving attendant Mosca to outwit the avaricious bunch and hoard the presents and the limelight for themselves.
In believing Volpone’s days to be numbered, the comedy comes from the gullibility and transparency of his would-be inheritors, and from whatever form of feigned ailment Volpone happens to be suffering from at any one time. At the play’s opening we are confronted with Volpone in bed asleep and alone on stage as rhythmic music creates the sound of a thumping heartbeat. In a split second he springs open his eyes, leaps out of bed, swings his red jacket over his shoulders and saunters off – alive and well. It’s a dynamic introduction.
Jonson’s dialogue is surpassing, but not all the actors make full use of it. Gary Roe as Bonario tends to murmur slightly, sometimes tripping over his lines to get them out, but Lynsey Beauchamp speaks with clarity and precision, and she’s brilliant as the deceiving Mosca, the brains of the outfit, whose deviousness runs deeper than first thought. Thomas Judd holds his own as the smarmy manipulator Volpone, but he’s at times overwhelmed by the authority with which Beauchamp plays his partner in crime. Edward Charles Bernstone as Castrone and Rachel Dennina as Nano are both delightful in their roles as Volpone’s associates.
The production is marked by performances that could be punchier and by the omission of a couple of stock characters bred solely for comic purposes: Sir Politic Would-Be, Lady Would-Be, and Peregrine. The main plot doesn’t miss them as they are strictly sidelined to form a sub-plot, though it makes for a less well-rounded comedy. But the glamour and satire, so synonymous with corruption in Jonson’s drama, are also alive and well.