Ruth Halkon 19 February 2010

Newnham Old Labs


Ben Jonson’s Volpone is meant to be a hilarious satire about avarice and the lust for gold, in which the wily old fox Volpone feigns illness, and aided by his parasite Mosca, spectacularly cons the greedy citizens of Venice. With a script as dazzling and diverse as Volpone’s wealth, written with a keen eye for human nature, the pen of satire sharpened to perfection, and as fresh as it was 400 years ago, Beatrice Burrow’s production should have been a brilliant success. Yet it fell flat.

Entering into the ‘theatre’ at Newnham Old Labs felt like walking into a school production. The redundant piano stage-right, the ragged screen and makeshift wardrobe that seemed as though it would collapse at any moment, a single sheet to serve as the bed that is so central to the performance, lighting that was either on or off. At least the acting was less makeshift.

Madeline Hammond as Volpone certainly gave it her best shot. Her feigned illness and feeble coughs were convincing, as was the alacrity with which she jumped into bed with Celia (Marina Lanagham). Similarly well done was her weariness after the first plot which led her to half-heartedly fake her own death in order to cheer herself up. Yet this weariness was present throughout her performance, enfeebling her attempts at disguise and manipulation – marred by obviously forgotten lines at significant points. Volpone’s willing victims, Voltore (Julia Lichnova), Corbaccio (Anna Delves) and Corvino, (Kieran Corcoran) were also not quite there. Corocran was almost convincing in his jealousy, threatening his wife with torture if she looked out of a window, yet his greed-induced leap to prostituting her for money, wasn’t quite shocking enough. Delves’ Corbaccio was grotesquely funny, with her feigned deafness, shuffling and contorted mouth – if only she’d managed to keep them up consistently.

The trial scenes should have been the highlights of the play, in which the cast were meant to dazzle, especially Voltore the lawyer whose excellent manipulation of language almost saves Volpone’s skin. Yet Langham’s Voltore was unconvincing, the characters failed to react as the innocent were condemned, and the whole thing seemed anti-climactic.

Eva Muirari’s charming parasite Mosca was on the whole excellent. She grasped the seductive qualities of Jonson’s spellbinding language; her fawning, flattery and artful conniving carried out with the right degree of disingenuous aplomb. Unfortunately, one good actor was not enough to redeem a production that lacked energy and excitement right from the start.

Ruth Halkon