Aptly dubbed the “Eclectic Elephant Theatre”, this intimate space is currently home to The Spanish Tragedy, written in the sixteenth century by Thomas Kyd. It’s known as a revenge play, and inspired many of the other great writers at the time including Shakespeare, and my word, is there a lot of revenge!
The Lazarus Theatre Company, which aims to bring classical theatre to a contemporary audience, certainly manages to make things easier to understand, with its set looking much like a typical A Level drama studio, dotted with research books and extra props, and its play starts with various warm up games.
We are soon plunged into the action, however, as we find the king, in this production at least, is in fact a woman (lovingly played by Roseanna Morris) – and madness ensues. Having been murdered in war, a haunted spirit returns to seek revenge on those responsible; through a series of twists and turns, there end up being more dead bodies on stage than alive: nice and calm this plot definitely isn’t!
Director Ricky Dukes has directed these (mostly young or freshly graduated) actors with great strength – some very exciting performances from Danny Solomon and James Peter-Bennett really captivated the audience who may not normally be used to such a dialogue-heavy script, and really, the entire ensemble exude an energy that simply cannot be faulted.
There is some inventive lighting, too, by Miguel Vincente, strongest during a hanging scene, using a flickering light to show someone dying. Using hand-held beams during some monologues unfortunately does not work effectively in showcasing the expressive actors’ faces. There is also a little too much smoke, almost choking the audience at several points. In such a small (and very hot!) theatre, it becomes a little overpowering.
The very best part of the show is the ‘play-within-a-play’ which is the disguise for many of the later deaths – the strongest part of the show is when the ensemble work as a whole and deliver work en-masse.
With the cleverly condensed script (into 100 minutes), minimal set and inventive scene changes, its nice to see a company that is committed to trying something different with classical work and to engage younger people in it. If the classical works of Kyd, Shakespeare and others were something that A Younger Theatre readers would like to engage more with, I’d encourage them to start watching with this company here.
The Spanish Tragedy is playing The Blue Elephant Theatre until 19 October 2013. For more information and tickets see the Blue Elephant Theatre. Photos by Adam Twigg.