THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY by Cyril Tourneur is the tailpiece to the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1966 season at Stratford-on-Avon, and it lashes with the sting of a scorpion. Trevor Nunn's bold and striking production revives this neglected play in a magnificent swirl of glinting silver, grey and black; shafts of white light pick out from the murky background the sardonic figures of this danse macabre. It presents a savagely satirical picture of a corrupt society so far disintegrated that justice is a meaningless concept and private revenge has become the means of redress.
Vendice is sworn to revenge upon the lascivious Duke who had poisoned Vendice's mistress some nine years before the play begins because she refused to give in to his lust. Vendice comes to the Duke's court and, disguised, is engaged as a pander by the Duke's eldest son, Lussorioso. Thus established, his opportunity is ripe, and his pursuit of his revenge brings about the downfall not only of the Duke and his family, but of himself and his accomplice-brother, Hippolito.
There is some darkly magnificent poetry which has been skilfully and imaginatively edited by John Barton to bring out the trenchant quality of the verse. Ian Richardson as Vendice sensitively conveys, through the imagery of darkness and death, the duality in the character. David Waller's Duke is a gross figure of greedy sensuality through which he yet glimpses dimly and in the presence of death - like Claudius - a vision of his own sin. Alan Howard plays Lussorioso as the essence of smiling treacherous lust, and Brenda bruce, as the Duchess, brilliantly catches the ludicrousness of the character.
Terence Hardiman and John Kane as Ambitioso and Supervacuo, the Duke's younger sons are as engagingly repellent a pair of fair-haired black-hearted scheming sycophants as ever trod the boards, and Norman Rodway's Spurio, the machiavellian bastard son contrasts effectively with them, in an intelligent portrayal of integrity in malevolence. Patience Collier and Lynn Farleigh are excellent as Gratiana and Castiza, Vendice's mother and sister.
There is undoubtedly scope for development in this production, which is to have only eight performances in the present season at Stratford, but it could become one of the most interesting and exciting offerings in the R.S.T.'s recent history if it can be given the chance of a revival. In concept it is brilliant and provocative, and, in modern terms, it is surely in the mood that its author intended.
The Stage and TV Today, 13.10.66.
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