On 1st November 2016, the Critics’ Circle watched The Revenger’s Tragedy, written by Thomas Middleton in the 1600s and directed for Nottingham Playhouse in 2016 by Fiona Buffini.
We were lucky enough to interview director Fiona Buffini about the play before we took our seats and questions included how the themes of this restoration period play continue to be relevant in the modern day, costume choice and why Fiona chose to set the play in the 1970s. We were also told to look out for a ‘knock-out’ dance sequence in the final scene… we weren’t disappointed!
Our critics have picked up on this choreographed demise and much much more in their responses to the play, which include poems, in-depth technical reviews, pictures and even a job application. Other areas of interest included the parallels between the 1600s, the 1970s and 2016, the use of costumes to bring out character and the “grotesque yet believable and disgusting yet comedic character” of Lussurioso, played by Declan Perring.
Can’t wait to learn more? Hit play here for the perfect the soundtrack and read on!
The Revenger’s Tragedy- Not so tragic after all
Revenge. Back when this play was written, Revenge was a brilliant topic for playwrights looking to make their mark on the world. By back then, I mean the early 17th century. Think Shakespeare, since they were around at the same time.
The play is about a Revenger and his Tragedy. I can hear the sarcastic quips in the distance already. But seriously, revenge. Pretty simple plot to start with. Bad guy does bad thing, kill that guy. In this case, the bad thing was the murder of our main characters sweetheart, 9 years before the play is set. And the bad guy in question is the Duke of…. Well, the duke. The duke is a womaniser in the worse sense: get all the chicks, even some underage, and ‘deal with’ anyone who turns you down.
That’s where the whole thing started, by the way. On the duke’s side, there’s the Dukes 2 sons; his legitimate son, who’s basically the Duke but young, womaniser and all, and his ‘born out of wedlock’ son. The 2 of them aren’t good friends. He’s just married the duchess, with her 3 children. The revenger, Vindice, has his family on his side. His brother, who works for the duke’s legitimate son, his younger sister, chased after by the aforementioned legitimate dude, and his mom. Good character roundup. They all have their own affiliations with each other, and the kids of the duke and duchess having their own little plot line, but I won’t spoil it as there needs to be something for you to see.
Now, the theme. It’s pretty popular for plays from the Elizabethan era to be set in modern day, to give a better sense of character, as the audience can relate to a lot of their problems. Well, Fiona Buffini (director), decided to add a little spin to it, so it’s set in the 70’s. Yeah, the seventies. And… it’s great. Really, it’s great. Everyone is dressed like flowers, and the men are all in pink and sparkly and it’s great. And the ending. Oh god, the ending. It’s great. Well… almost.
Speaking of the ending, there’s something that bothers me about it. In tragedies, there’s something called the ‘tragic flaw’. It is an aspect of the main character that will ultimately lead to their downfall. Think Romeo’s love, Macbeth’s ego, or Hamlet’s drive for revenge. Is this missing from the main character? No, he has one. And it leads to his downfall, as it should. But… it seems to me, his downfall is his morality. And….. that’s fine, I guess. Romeo had the same problem, with his love being his downfall, as it stands out from the world. But in Shakespeare’s work, their flaws are who they are. For Vindice, it’s not. His drive is his revenge, not his morality. It doesn’t quite work for him. I think so, at least.
So it’s fine. Not for kids, but fine. Go watch it.
Blood for Blood – a poem inspired by the play
She used to be here
Following me around
Sitting next to me
And holding me
But now she’s gone
And I can’t help it.
I think of it again
Yet it never happens.
So it’s time
For me to act
To deliver justice
And get my revenge.
And all I can say
Is that, they deserved it
They were owed it
And it’s what I’ve longed for.
But she would never know that
They took her
They took my life
They took my love
They took my loyalty
And they smashed it into a million pieces
So now I say
A death to repay her
And once more it will be
Blood for blood.
Glitter and Glam
The Revenger’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton is a Jacobean revenge tragedy that tells the action-packed story of one man’s quest to cleanse an Italian court of the corruption constantly supplied by the two families that reside there, all entirely without morals. Director Fiona Buffini has re-imagined the play from 1606 with 70s glam rock costumes, set and music, a choice that worked superbly and surprisingly well. I thought the sequin suits, leather, leopard print and wigs pictured perfectly the characters’ extravagant obsession with exterior image. The fabulous costumes were so extreme they highlighted the falseness of the characters who wore them, beneath which they were scheming, hateful and corrupt. Also the upbeat classic 70s music, often used in transitions, kept the pace running and sounded rightly suiting for the glamorous chaos of court life.
The performances in this production were outstanding, especially Declan Perring who played Lussurioso, the Duke’s son; I thought he stole the show, creating a grotesque yet believable and disgusting yet comedic character. I also thought Tabitha Wady as the Duchess and Bethan Mary-James as Ambitiosa gave stand-out thoroughly entertaining performances. However, I didn’t really connect with Alexander Campbell’s character Vindice. With all the other characters I felt I understood their every emotion even without understanding the text on many occasions but I felt confused by Vindice’s motivations and character. Overall, though, I was impressed with the clarity of getting the narrative and emotions across with a complex text that wasn’t simple to understand.
I thought the set was well chosen and used. It wasn’t over the top – the costumes filled this job – but the reflective sparkling silver decoration that came down for the court scenes perfectly captured that glam and luxuriance, reminiscent of a 70s pop video. Overall, I would recommend The Revenger’s Tragedy. It has a great story, fantastic actors and the 70s theme is quite a spectacle.
There’s Murder on the Dance Floor!
On the 1st November 2016 I saw The Revenger’s Tragedy by Thomas Middleton at the Nottingham Playhouse. This is a very complex plot but easy to follow once you get the gist of it a few minutes in. Our main character Vindice, played by Alexander Campbell, has lost his love. She was killed 9 years before the play begins by the protagonist of the play, the Duke, played by Paul Brightwell. We are greeted as we enter the theatre by the skull of Gloriana, Vindice’s love. When the play begins we quickly see he wants revenge. This is the major theme throughout the play as you can tell by the title… REVENGE! We are then taken into a fast-moving production where characters drop like flies.
The set is very simplistic, with a few items used for each scene, such as crystals for the Duke’s palace. This makes it easy for the audience to quickly set the scene and know where they are. It really helps to enhance the piece and allows us a quicker
insight into the narrative, allowing us to break through the language barrier of old English.
The cast of this production was very good, particularly the Duchess, played by Tabitha Wady, and Lussurioso, played by Declan Perring. Their characterisations were perfect, drawing the audience into a trance to watch and be engaged by them. The piece also featured younger actors who also showed a brilliant performance adding a contrast in age in the piece.
The music of the piece also added greatly to it, having music from the 70s which is when the piece has been set by director Fiona Buffini. This makes it very relevant to a modern audience as they can understand the costume and makes the piece more engaging due to humour as it is from their past.
Overall this was a very engaging performance and very clever. I would recommend everyone to see this play. Even though the language is not modern, you can still very clearly get the idea of what they are saying due to how it’s directed – you can land on key words and understand the play. I would definitely go and see more plays directed by Fiona Buffini and her unique take.
The Revenger’s Tragedy – a technical review.
The lighting was very interesting because at the beginning a skull on a chair down stage left was lit. The chair wasn’t directly lit, it was lit from the spill of the spotlight from vertically above the skull. This spill and the reflection of the light from on the skull lit the backrest of the chair in a gentle and soft way which made the skull stand out and seem brighter that the seat behind.
In some scenes the actors where lit from the ground. This cast large shadows that were reaching the very top of the set and made the audience who were sitting close to the stage on the bottom of the auditorium feel intimidated.
The back lighting from the very back of the stage behind all the set made the mood of the scene more obvious, this helped the audience who struggled with the language used in the show understand how the characters on stage felt. This was clever because it allowed the show to be understood by a wider range of people in the audience. The backlighting could also help people who have English as a second language, making the range even larger.
The music between scenes suited the style and was very effective at joining the scenes together. It was also was very loud and faded quickly making some people in the audience jump but it also made the audience listen. It quickly got the attention of the audience which makes it interesting, wondering about what was about to happen. The scenes at the beginning of the show and after the interval started very quickly and made the start more interesting than a normal show which starts slowly with lots of warning that the show was about to begin.
The set was very interesting but was basic in some scenes. Some scenes only had two to three pieces of set, the basic sets were effective at making the audience concentrate on the actors and what was happening on stage. In other scenes, the set was more complex and clever and gave a sense of the environment that the scene was set in. The set for the court room scene was interesting because it didn’t look like a normal courtroom but more of an expensive showroom to show the wealth of the guests.
In the scene where the Duke was killed, the large panels which were lowered from above the stage made the stage look very deep. The gaps between the panels allowed the audience to see through to the panel behind and this helped the audience feel like they were in a forest or woods.
The same panels were used in other scenes like inside the building. Using the sets like this was effective, because when they were lit in different ways the panels could look metallic and very shiny and they could stand out or if they were lit differently they were more dull and darker this makes the sets effective for what they are used for.
Treat Others How you Want to be Treated: The Revenger’s Tragedy
The Revenger’s Tragedy was written over 400 years ago, and is still being performed today, portraying the outrage towards corrupt members of power.
After his fiancé was poisoned by the Duke, Vindice seeks an equalizing revenge, but in doing so becomes just as bad as the decadent and depraved Duke.
A fairly minimalistic set, involving drop down panels, was used effectively to vary between dance floor, Vindice’s family home and the Duke and Lussurioso’s private rooms.
The outstanding character had to be the outrageously camp Lussurioso, especially his funky dance moves, while the Duchess’ children’s constant plotting provided plenty of amusement. The avenging Vindice was too caught up in his need for payback for the loss of his fiancé to acknowledge his own descent into corruption.
The costumes were reminiscent of 70s disco wear, great for those Saturday Night Fever fans, with the Duke’s bedazzling sequined suits, reflecting the excessive nature of their lives. The 70s rock classics, including T-Rex, provided an enjoyable background to the action.
Overall, a perfect production for those seeking music nostalgia, coupled with dramatic vengeance.
The Revenger’s Tragedy: a dark comedy
The Revenger’s Tragedy may seem like a complicated story on paper, but seeing it on stage, it is remarkably easy to follow. Thomas Middleton wrote this stunning play over 400 years ago, around about the end of Elizabeth I’s reign and wrote about the corruption and uneasiness that people had for the higher classes and the people in power. This message remains just as prominent nowadays as it did back then, which is why it can be put into any time frame. Possibly why our Director Fiona Buffini had decided to place our characters in the 1970s, thus exposing them not only to the exciting storyline, but also to the eccentrically glamorous styles of the era.
As with many tragedies, this revenge has been planned for a very long time, but as Vindice, played by Alexander Campbell, infiltrates his way into a position close to the Duke, he discovers his son’s Lussurioso, played by the hilarious Declan Perring , his disgusting plans for his 14 year old sister Castiza, played by Isabel Adams. As his revenge against the Duke (Paul Brightwell) is exacted, he then turns his attention to his son and heir, planning his punishment for his attempt to corrupt and deflower his beloved sister. Behind all of this, the 3 children of the Duchess (Tabitha Wady), plot to get into a higher position of power by trying to sabotage and kill their elder brother.
The costumes will immediately catch your eye and make the younger generation grimace, at the thought of their parents/grandparents wearing such explosive clothing, while said grandparents and parents are reminiscing about the times they had in the 70’s wearing those clothes. The flashy setting is also keeping with the time era, but keeps it subtle enough so that your attention is still on the actors, whilst giving them the ambience needed. The music also adds to the setting of the era and is extremely enjoyable to listen to, especially during the killer dance scene towards the end, which I am certain will entertain everyone massively like it did the entire audience and myself on the night.
So prepare for a night of unexpected laughter and thrills whilst realising, throughout the course of the play, that it takes a special breed of person to keep from being corrupted in a world where greed is prominent.
JOB APPLICATION FOR THE POSITION REQUIRED BY LUSSURIOSO, THE HEIR TO A DUKEDOM
Hippolito, a humble yet loyal slave; absolutely no relation to Piato in any way, shape or form
Gloriana, dancing, ladies, jewellery, rich employers and justice
PREVIOUS POSITIONS: I am looking for a new job because my previous employer came to a sudden demise. There is no proof whatsoever that I poisoned him, and if I did it is only because I accidentally dropped the strychnine on his lips. Before that I was a Royal advisor to Hamlet but sadly he took my advice and it didn’t end too well. Prior to this role I was a Public Relations Manager for the witches in The Play That Shall Not Be Named but regrettably they got a taste of their own medicine (or potion in this case).
SENSE IN FASHION:
Gives incredible life advice, a good handshake and can make a quick getaway Remember I can be the Flower to your Power.
Revenge is the heart of this play
It all starts when the Duke takes a lover away
To get revenge Vindice must go into disguise
After 9 years this is when his plan starts to rise
With his brothers help Vindice infiltrates the court
Where he gains their trust
And then he fulfils his blood lust
Vindice uses the skull of his lover to kill the Duke
But throughout this there is more revenge being sought
So Vindice must stay and find more revenge
Revenge is a sweet thing…