“For the people tired of the same money generating schemes on the West End. For the people who crave different kinds of honesty from their theatre. For the people who have never connected to any theatre. For the people who search. For the people who question. For the people who struggle. For the 99%.” These are the bold and powerful claims that Rocky Rodriguez Jr makes in his director’s note for Dante’s Inferno: A Modern Telling. Staged in the warehouse-like Rag Factory, we meet Dante who is unfulfilled, demoralised and trapped in the rat race, and what’s more he can see no means of escaping his nihilistic existence. Craft Theatre intersperses Dante Alighieri’s original text with sections penned by John Cage, Rocky Rodriguez Jr, and the ever topical Russell Brand. This modern day retelling of Dante’s suffering and quest for redemption still feels as applicable to present day society as when Dante first wrote it, if not more so.

Craft Theatre marks scene transitions with energetic forward rolls, leaps and cartwheels, as Lecoq-inspired physicality informs this entire production. It begins with a dramatic plunge into darkness, where the only glimmer of light is produced by the occasional flickering of a cigarette lighter. In stark juxtaposition, the space is suddenly flooded with bright light – resulting in both audience and the actors being harshly illuminated in a very exposing manner. Every morning Dante gets up, bickers with his wife, crumbles under the strain of an ever mounting workload and then attempts to drown his sorrows in an overpriced pub. Lacking any direction or passion Dante seems destined to sink deeper and deeper into a whirlpool of despair, until one day he snaps and takes out his frustration on a poor and unsuspecting beggar. Striking her in frustration leads to Dante’s arrest. Once incarcerated Dante is forced to face his demons and descend deeper into the cesspit of hell.

Craft Theatre tackles this tale of epic proportions with real gusto and slick delivery which is all the more impressive considering the recent tragic passing of cast member Khan Bonfils. As Dante, Lucas John Mahoney is suitably intense and tortured. Another standout performance was Helen Foster, who played the boss’s uptight and highly strung daughter with superb comic ease. This is a high energy production from start to finish. It contained some very clever moments and it was often the simplest that were the most effective. For instance when Dante is on the brink of his demise, the entire dialogue in his office descends into solely jargonistic terms with differing inflections. Craft Theatre is certainly an accomplished ensemble. However, all too often the group mistook vocal projection for the need to shout, which felt unnecessary and left my ears ringing.

Like Scrooge, Faustus and many other tales of redemption, an enlightened Dante bounds around the stage with a newfound zest for life. A transformation that is made even more humorous due to the blatant parody of Russell Brand. Craft Theatre’s production is clever, ambitious and unlike anything that I have ever seen before. The circles of hell may go by a different name, but the overriding fiery message still resonates and burns brightly.

Dante’s Inferno: A Modern Telling is playing at the Rag Factory until 1 February. For tickets and more information, see the Craft Theatre website.