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What the reviewers said
'What is best conveyed in the main plot, besides the single-minded voracity of the dupes, is the nearly innocent jollity of the Volpone gang. The fox wallows in his gold, which sticks not only to his fingers but even to his face. Mosca bounds into Volpone’s lap, and the same hearty animal spirits move Volpone to bound after Celia. That level of energy and interest cannot be maintained, however; even jollity begins to pall. The Scoto of Montau episode achieves very little and even the last jolly scene in Volpone’s household, just before Volpone makes the mistake of feigning death, is more than a little anticlimactic.'
Henry Popkin, ‘Black comedy still has too much’, The Times, 17 January 1968
'What Guthrie has achieved in short is a style to match the play … Guthrie has moulded his characters not only into grotesques – playing up their animal-affinities, in particular – but into grotesques who move, converse an interact. It is as if the engravings of a master-caricaturist were endowed with the elasticity and physical inventiveness of the early Walt Disney – and, of course, with the dialogue of rare Ben Jonson. [...] Edward Petherbridge transforming his fingers into Voltore’s vulturely claws … the parrot-like verbal ticks of Graham Crowden as Sir Politick … the ravenly curve of Paul Curran’s back, his whole black-cloaked body semi-circling towards Corbaccio’s beak … All these were small masterpieces of interpretation, manifesting a controlled and consistent response towards the play as a moral fable.'
Comedies with happy endings', Tribune, 26 January 1968
'The double-dealing ‘fly’ is played by Frank Wylie. It is hard to imagine that an actor could distil more venomous cunning out of his part than does Mr. Wylie. His piercing, instant glances mirror evil. Yet they are delightful to a London audience for it is not overawed by the drama as Jonson’s contemporaries might have been. Volpone [Colin Blakely] himself led the National Theatre’s cast capably. His sense of dramatic timing was fine. Comedy is the fiercest test of an actor’s timing. And Elizabethan comedy, with its strange allusions and pretences is probably the most difficult to play. Colin Blakely’s timing was admirably attuned to the audience’s reactions.'
BCB, ‘The Vic’s Volpone is strong meat’, Time & Tide, 25 January 1968
'[I]t dwindles under the weight of an insatiable appetite for decoration… Guthrie mines furiously at the gold in the play until the stage overflows with incident and detail.
Tanya Moiseiwitsch’s designs are magnificent but they contribute in large measures to this feeling of excess which ultimately evaporates both the evil and the truth of the play, muddies its clear line and cuts the comedy down to spasmodic laughter. [...] lines are punctuated by clucks and clicks, squawks and whistles. They hop ad shuffle on stalked legs around Volpone’s supposed deathbed … They are enormously successful as caricatures but are almost as wearing on the audience as they must be on the actors.
Nathan, David, ‘Volpone… strictly for the birds’, The Sun, 17 January 1968
'Some of the National Theatre’s best talents are barely recognisable under their make-up and 6in. vulture beaks. Colin Blakely as an obscenely giggling Volpone leads the gallery of prancing, dancing, feather-rustling Elizabethan grotesques. The production finally goes over the top. The extravagantly costumed freaks who people the stage eventually outstay their first, startled welcome. A circus which had little to offer except its clowns would soon pall. And this ‘Volpone’ seems endless. But Frank Wylie as Mosca … superbly creates a portrait of vile conspirator, and keeps the stage ablaze with deceits.'
Kretzmer, Herbert, ‘Prancing, dancing, giggling – endless’, Daily Express, 17 January 1968
'Frank Wylie’s Mosca the Fly, with his painted grin and sticky limbs, was an original and disturbing creation, especially when he halted his insect scurrying for a sudden fit of weariness or a rare gleam of ambition. Colin Blakely’s Volpone, vigorous and gutsy, appeared perhaps more coyote than fox, the crafty steward not the sneering magnifico. Yet some of his scenes succeeded triumphantly. [...]
Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s production of Volpone was an impressive feat of exterior decorating. An enormous load of fussy business, obsessive mannerisms and grotesque posturing was plastered across the façade of the play, so that a walled-in plot could be only just heard struggling, with increasing feebleness, to escape. [...]
By the first interval, I felt I had sat through a three-act farce… A Guthrie production is like being propelled through the Louvre five minutes before closing time – by trying to show you everything, it is in danger of showing you nothing. The final effect is artistic indigestion. [...]
It might have been wiser to have issued less advance publicity about sending the cast to the zoo to study the creatures whose names Jonson gave them. Deprived of the surprise and pleasure of making our own identifications, the temptation was to forget the words and regard the evening as a mass contest of animal imitators.'
Brien, Alan, ‘Volpone gets the business’, Sunday Telegraph, 21 January 1968