- The Revenger’s Tragedy
In the eighty-odd years since T.S. Eliot described The Revenger’s Tragedy as the play primarily responsible for “mak[ing] immortal the name of Cyril Tourneur,” the text’s visibility has benefited considerably from its attribution to Thomas Middleton, and its critical reputation has grown along with that of the rest of Middleton’s (ever expanding) corpus. Nevertheless, when three different productions of the play appeared [End Page 257] on London stages within a two-month period last year, it seemed as if its mix of humor and horror had struck a chord with an unusually broad range of off-West End directors all at once. Though the thought is unsettling, one possible explanation is that the efflorescence of Revenger’s productions springs from the play’s timeliness, its fitting our moment much as Vindice’s invented alter-ego Piato fits his own. As Hippolito puts it, “[t]his our age swims within him: and if Time / Had so much hair, I should take him for Time, / He is so near kin to this presents minute.” If the world of the play really is kin to the world of the twenty-first-century, however, each of the three directors saw in Middleton’s work a very different reflection of “this our age.”
The Immersion Theatre’s production was at once both the most materially spartan and the most textually complete staging. Director James Tobias relocated Middleton’s court to a darkly comic circus world in which the Duke was costumed as a ringmaster, the Duchess’s sons were shabby clowns in smeared whiteface, and the minor characters were roustabouts. The production was staged in the Hen & Chickens Theatre, a comparatively tiny space above a pub, and all dozen actors lying side-by-side would have easily covered the majority of the performance area. With no set to speak of beyond some circus posters plastered to the walls, the play’s altered locale was expressed primarily by means of Rachel Cartlidge’s costume design and the occasional bit of calliope music. It quickly became obvious that the focus of the circus setting—and, indeed, of the entire production—was the Duchess’s three sons. Not only did Ambitioso, Supervacuo, and Junior retain the vast majority of their lines, Tobias emphasized their significance to the play’s tone in ways that went well beyond their presence in Middleton’s text.
As the audience entered the theater, Ambitioso and Supervacuo were already onstage performing a wordless vaudevillian slapstick routine and trying to joke with theatergoers taking their seats. After the doors were closed and the lights brought down, a cheerful calliope tune began to play and the two clowns retreated toward a small folding screen sitting upstage. The brothers struggled in vain to move the screen, but finding themselves comically unable to budge...