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Volpone - RSC Swan Theatre Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Actor Henry Goodman At His Best In Comedy Play
As one of the pearls in Britain's acting elite, multi-award winning actor Henry Goodman is reason alone to see this modern-day reworking of historic city comedy Volpone.

Still somewhat of a hidden gem to many, he's appeared in roles from Notting Hill to Marvel's Agents of Shield, but seeing him perform live on stage is scintillating.

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An impressive Annette McLaughlin and Henry Goodman star in the new production of Volpone from Trevor Nunn


Goodman won an Olivier Award for Best Actor as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice at the National Theatre in 2000, when he was directed by Trevor Nunn. And that successful collaboration has been brought together once again at the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon with Nunn directing this Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production.

It's a comic and satiric play by Shakespeare's contemporary Jonson, but Nunn has transported the tale of greed, cons and a limitless drive for money right up to the current era.

The beauty of Jonson's work is that storyline fits in perfectly with this modern-day setting, with the addition of a few comic updates to the script (at the expense of Greece and the Euro and the like).

Stocks and share prices whizz by on electronic ticker tape, CCTV cameras relay some of the action and there's even a vacuous reality star and some awful banker-types.

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Vibrant characters of a eunuch, hermaphrodite and a dwarf in Volpone by the RSC


Goodman holds court as Volpone, a rich businessman, who has no boundaries and goes way too far in his attempt to ridicule the foolish, guzzling blood-suckers around him.

The actor is ever so charming through Volpone's devilish deceptions and so relaxed on stage that you forget he's acting - even at his most farcical moments pretending to be a dying man or a flamboyant Italian salesman.

Volpone is a man so wealthy that he has his own dwarf, eunuch and hermaphrodite at his beck and call. The trio are delightfully vibrant characters and give Volpone a kind James Bond villain status.

Adding to this motley crew is manservant Mosca, a cool-headed figure as cunning as his master. Mosca is played by Orion Lee (seen in films x y, Skyfall and Fury) and although Lee portrays the cold detachment of a villain, I'm not sure he shows enough deviousness or passion behind this key role in the play.

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Mosca (Orion Lee) with his master Volpone (Henry Goodman)


The story revolves around a plot by Volpone to con fellow usurpers out of their gold and dignity by pretending he is on his last legs and about to leave his fortunes to which ever one pleases him the most. He engineers a way of them offering their most prized possessions, whether it be a wife or disinheriting a son.

One by one they come to visit as Volpone disguises himself emphatically with wig, make-up and even spittle to recreate a dying man. It's almost pantomime in nature and just as fun.

Among the gluttons, Annette McLaughlin stands out as Lady Politic Would-Be and is hugely entertaining as the pouting, awful reality star playing her life out before a camera or taking a selfie at inappropriate moments.

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Geoffrey Freshwater is hilarious as one of the greedy businessmen in Volpone is on at the Swan Theatre


Matthew Kelly shrugs off his 'Mr Nice' television presenter persona to be persuasive as the tyranical rich businessman Corvino, who makes his wife spend a night with Volpone against her will. While Geoffrey Freshwater gets the big laughs as the foolish, decrepit Corbaccio, right up to his final scene.

As a side-line, there is the foolish, drippy Sir Politic Would-Be, played with relish by Steven Pacey (of Blake 7 fame), who gets conned by a backpacker he has trusted with his prized secrets. It's a very modern-day prank that Sir Politic Would-Be gets hoodwinked by first being persuaded to wear women's clothes and then snapped by photographers.

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The contemporary version of Volpone at the Swan Theatre


The first act is a fast-paced, fun piece of theatre that is dominated by Goodman and totally captivates. Although the second act slows down a gear slightly, it's still a merry journey.

TS Eliot wrote back in 1921 that "of all the dramatists of his time, Jonson is probably the one whom the present age would find the most sympathetic". This fresh, funny, contemporary version of Volpone makes that point proved.

Rating: 8/10

Volpone
Swan Theatre
Stratford upon Avon
3 July - 12 Sept 2015
Running time: 2 hrs 50 mins 20 min interval

Tickets cost from 5 - 50 and are available by calling 0844 800 1110 or from the RSC website.

Cast & Creatives

Henry Goodman (Volpone)
Orion Lee (Mosca)
Annette McLaughlin (Lady Politic Would-Be)
Steven Pacey (Sir Politic Would-Be)
Matthew Kelly (Corvino)
Andy Apollo (Bonario)
Miles Richardson (Voltore)
Colin Ryan (Peregrine)
Ankur Bahl (Androgyno)
Geoffrey Freshwater (Corbaccio)
Marcus Griffiths (Commandatori)
Rhiannon Handy (Celia)
Simon Hedger (Judge)
Julian Hoult (Castrone)
Jonathan Key (Nano)
Guy Burgess (Judge/ Merchant)
Richard Rees (Judge)
Nav Sidhu (Notary)
Gabby Wong (Assistant to Lady Politic Would-Be).
Sheila Atim (Assistant to Lady Politic Would-Be)

Designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting by Tim Mitchell
Music is composed by Steven Edis
Sound by Fergus O'Hare
Movement by Lynne Page
Fight Director is Terry King
Video by Nina Dunn
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Why? See one of Britain's great actors on stage
When: Until September 12, 2015
Phone: 0844 800 1110
Where: Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 5
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