Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Hackney Volpone, Rose Lipman Building

Review: The Hackney Volpone, Rose Lipman Building

Published in Time Out, 28.07.2014

It’s dazed and confused, for sure, but otherwise there’s basically nothing east London about this bizarre, pitiful attempt to relocate Ben Jonson’s classic 1606 comedy to E8. In fact, The Hackney Volpone barely even tries that. We get a Cockney song, then Jonson’s characters talk of popping down to the Rialto. Er, Toto? I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Shoreditch any more.

Jonson’s play is a satire on avarice – all-encompassing, boundless greed. Volpone and his sidekick Mosca set up an inheritance scam by faking his imminent death. In 2014, in sight of the City, with loan sharks circling and benefit cheats limping, this should have real topical punch.

Not so. Anna Jones’s bare-stage production, plonked on a pop-up thrust stage in a community hall (and no, NYLon Projects, that doesn’t make it ‘immersive’), lacks any specificity whatsoever. You’d have thought, over the course of three hours, it might find some detail, but, sadly, it doesn’t.

James Turner’s costumes – assorted ruffs and high-tops – tell us nothing about either setting or social order. The actors – and I’ll save them the process of applying to Google for the right to be forgotten – reel off the lines by rote, heeding rhythm over meaning, while leading man and company co-founder Jamel Rodriguez (cough: vanity project) completely forgets that he’s playing a character with actual personality traits. Hackney hasn’t seen a performance this declamatory since the heyday of Ridley Road Market.

We could make allowances for some of this, but what earns The Hackney Volpone its lone star status is the way it sppears to exploit a community chorus. Jones deploys unpaid local residents as extras and glorified stage hands, leaving them exposed and, by the looks of it, embarrassed on several occasions. Frankly, that’s unforgivable.

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