The Revenger’s Tragedy

Aidan Crowe as Spaz in 'The Revenger's Tragedy' presented by Bottom Dog Theatre. Photo: Mike Finn

Aidan Crowe as Spaz in 'The Revenger's Tragedy' presented by Bottom Dog Theatre. Photo: Mike Finn

Liam O’Brien as Vinnie in 'The Revenger's Tragedy' presented by Bottom Dog Theatre. Photo: Mick Finn

Liam O’Brien as Vinnie in 'The Revenger's Tragedy' presented by Bottom Dog Theatre. Photo: Mick Finn

'The Revenger's Tragedy' presented by Bottom Dog Theatre Company.

'The Revenger's Tragedy' presented by Bottom Dog Theatre Company.

As you take your seat at the Belltable’s off-site space on Cecil Street, the ugliness of the scaffolding cyclorama that reaches all the way up to the flies, surveying a bleak detritus of discarded rubbish - mattress springs, a cement mixer, graffiti walls and a grotto of religious iconography - a picture of the impending depravity is well conjured before a single character utters a swear. Emma Fisher’s set depicts an aptly crude setting for Mike Finn's retelling of a Jacobean black comedy.

Finn takes Thomas Middleton’s script and grafts it on to an up-to-date carnival of black blooded murder and casual violence, perpetrated by seedy gangland track-suited, trainer clad hoodies of remorseless nature, presided over by a supreme "Cheese," "The Man," "The Noise," The Duke. At a time when drug, gun and knife crime are causing such concern, The Revenger’s Tragedy, with its ferocious stabbings and a body count that eclipses Hamlet’s, is clearly a work whose time has come again.

In Finn’s script modern day street-gang speak is pleated with Middleton’s mordant language and at times the momentum is compromised by the actors’ deployment of the Jacobean dialect, hurting the fluidity of the speech. The interweaving of iambic verse with modern street vernacular requires a tightness in direction that is not always evident here. The impact of Middleton’s patois suffers because its delivery is unevenly paced and at times too speedily rendered. This shortfall creates unease in the marriage of the dual tongues in certain scenes.

That said the production has many high points and much to offer. Directed by Myles Breen for Bottom Dog Theatre, it is a skillfully evocative send-up of today’s criminal gangs: foul mouthed, genetically preordained mindless thugs whose propensity for violence chills on the one hand, while on the other their ignorance and stupidity provide some of the play’s great comic moments. As the story unfolds and the play gets into its stride, the action on stage is infused with energetic performances and studded with unforgettable moments of savagery and wit. Finn’s signature references to popular culture in TV and film imbue the aesthetic violent context.

The plot centres around Vinnie (Liam O’Brien) who returns from London to infiltrate the Duke’s (Pascal Scott) criminal family as a Cockney wide boy; to gain confidence he takes on errands of dubious nature for the gang making himself their indispensable ideas man and go-for. Under this cloak he contrives a wicked web of deceit that will set brother against brother and father against son in his plan to avenge the Duke’s murder of his lover Gloria nine years previously. O’Brien’s task is manifold: he has Cockney speak and accent, modern Irish street vernacular and Middleton’s poetic verse to deal with as well as the volatile mood swings of his character. O’Brien pulls it off with dextrous manoeuvre. His investment of malcontent in Vinnie is excellent but his murder of the Duke as he tricks him into lip smacking contact with a skeletal head is not with the kind of sadistic relish one might expect from a man who would dream up and orchestrate such an evil plan. His performance of a character who eventually extinguishes his own divine morality in the act of murdering others is well achieved and the play’s moral thesis that “he who seeks revenge, must dig two graves,” is adeptly portrayed in the broken, spent Vinnie at the play’s denouement. Pascal Scott’s Duke is a finely tuned portrayal of the wolf in sheep’s clothing, lecherous lap dancing club owner and purveyor of drugs.

Aidan Crowe and Patrick Ryan excel as pesky lowlife half brothers. Their predicaments and invectives along with Gene Rooney's fishnet-wearing, tight-skirted Duchess and her sexual shenanigans are responsible for much of the play’s dark and simultaneously hilarious moments. Crowe as Spaz the illegitimate son (or maybe not his son at all) of the Duke is perfectly believable as the rogue-like thug who would shop and shoot his granny with a grin on his face, while Lucky, the eldest son, is played by Ryan as a convincingly gullible and dyed in the wool arbiter of knife and gun.

David O’Brien’s garish lighting design and a cinematic original music score by Steve Ryan complement the idiomatically relevant tone of Finn’s adaptation. Misunderstandings and mistaken identities abound the Elizabethan farce, on which Jacobean comedy drew, and Finn’s use of these theatrical devices for his Limerick tale of revenge, drugs, guns, knives and lust make for an entertaining take on a dark tale.

Breda Shannon is a freelance writer and contributor of book reviews to The Irish Examiner.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Revenger’s Tragedy by Mike Finn, adapted from a play by Thomas Middleton

9 - 21 November, 2009

Produced by Bottom Dog in association with Limerick Theatre Hub and Belltable Arts Centre
In Belltable Arts Centre

Directed by Myles Breen

Set and Costume Design: Emma Fisher

Lighting Design: David O’Brien

With: Liam O’Brien, Aidan Crowe, Pascal Scott, Patrick Ryan, Gene Rooney, Dorothy Cotter and Shane Vaughan