Last night I went to the Royal Exchange production of The Revenger's Tragedy. I won't name names but, bloody hell, actors just can't seem to speak early modern English dialogue any more.
I must quickly make an exception for Stephen Tompkinson who played Vindice: none of his TV appearances I've seen have indicated to me the stature of his acting, but after last night I'd say he's a genius. Eileen O'Brien, who plays his mother, was also as brilliant as I've come to expect of her.
I went with my son Matthew and we sat on the banquettes, and I have to say we got sore bums and just before the interval our backs started aching but it was worth it, and John, who didn't come because of the bad reviews the production had had, really missed out. I knew the play from university but I'd never seen it, and it really was an experience. As the RX programme notes explain, the Jacobean playwrights thought of themselves as writing modern versions of Roman tragedy, but had overlooked the fact that the violence of those Roman tragedies was merely reported and not enacted on stage. It was a pretty strange experience to watch the Duke having his eyelids slit and his tongue cut out (you just couldn't help thinking about how they were doing it), and, as the interval started, to watch a stage hand pick up the 'tongue' and put it into a plastic pot ready for the next performance. The production self-consciously acknowledged this difficulty in suspending disbelief for a modern audience (for instance, during the use of the Duke's dead body in an intrigue there's a dance sequence performed to 'The Sun Has Got His Hat On'), but whether it worked - along with the modern dress: guys in suits using daggers and killing dukes without redress? - we're still heatedly discussing. There's no doubt however that it's made an impression and that the images will stay with us for good.