Even as an English Literature graduate I sometimes find it hard to keep on top of marvellous performance or a combination of the two, The Devil Is An Ass at The Rose Playhouse has a delightful way of fitting into the 21st century without compromising any of its original charm.
The Devil Is An Ass is essentially a story about justice. In fact the programme explains, “It is a city comedy, set very definitely in London, peopled by recognisable types who are driven by everyday motives of greed and jealousy”.
The play opens in Hell – which is presented so wonderfully that it is a reason alone to see this play – a spirit, Pug (Lewis Chandler) begs Satan for an opportunity to wreak havoc on earth. Satan eventually agrees to give Pug one day on earth where he soon learns that humans have learnt to be wicked and scheming to the extent that even Hell cannot compete.
Jonson’s writing shows a real understanding of the human psyche through his satire. The themes are undeniably recognisable which is why the play can always be revived and stay relevant.
The choice to remain loyal to the time period makes sense for a venue such as the Rose Playhouse. The language and costume very much suits the time period, but it would be interesting to see how the play could have worked in an Elizabethan theatre, with Jonson’s original dialogue but with some indication of a modern time period. After all, this play is definitely timeless.
There is no denying that there is something rather satisfying about watching justice run its course as each character attempts to ‘cuckold’ the other with only the more virtuous prevailing. It is put so well by Jonson through the words of Wittipol, reminding the audience that everyone has their vices but emphasises the strength of virtue.
Interestingly, the devil is treated in the typical role of ‘fool’ rather than the devious mastermind that we often get with plays of this era. This does make for some enjoyable physical comedy that serves as a nice break from concentrating on the language.
The cast is so full of character that even the set changes are entertaining to watch. It’s quite impressive that, even during these moments, they do not drop their characters. Indeed, when they are delivering their performance they do so brilliantly without missing one moment of priceless comic timing.
It is quite easy to get swept away in the plot with so many comedic characters delivering witty line after witty line. This is a delightful performance that is quite easy to watch and is made even more special by its ideal location.
The Devil Is An Ass plays the Rose Playhouse until 28 November. For more info, see the Rose Theatre website.