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Volpone - Royal Exchange Theatre 2004

'Greg Hersov's production of Ben Jonson's Volpone, played in the round at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, was a visually lavish fusion of seventeenth century Venice and the dolce vita of the 1960s. The Sir Politic Wouldbe/Peregrine sub plot was cut, reducing the playing time to two and a half hours and focusing the action on the antics of Volpone (played by Gerard Murphy) and his troupe of followers, stage-managed by Stephen Noonan as a slick, lounge-lizard Mosca.

A septagonal Perspex-covered pool surrounded by white, red and black tiles dominated the playing space. Illuminated by green strip lighting the pool, at key stages in the action, released a thick mist that suggested the murky lagoon upon which the city of Venice was built. Volpone's bedroom was opulent, with a centrally placed red and gold-trimmed velvet bed surrounded by six two-foot high ruby encrusted statuettes, lowered from the flies. This quasi-Renaissance decadence was quickly transformed, by members of Volpone's household, into a sterile, efficient modern hospital bed scene each time the arrival of a suitor was announced. The transformation was later reversed in the wooing scene when Volpone stripped away the hospital sheets to reveal a scarlet mattress, which he flamboyantly sprayed with perfume upon which to seduce Celia (Miranda Colchester). The fusion of Renaissance and modern continued throughout the action, most strikingly again in the court scene where the judges sat on gold thrones and wore splendid red, black and gold robes and Volpone arrived in an electric wheelchair. [...]

The fusion of traditional and modern seen in the staging and costuming was similarly evoked through the text editing and contemporary ad-libbing, particularly by the two main protagonists. [...] Music punctuated the action at every opportunity, beginning with jazz playing as the audience took to their seats and then loudly announcing subsequent scene changes. [...]

Hersov, in his programme notes, underlined his concept for the production, set in a "world where the conman is king [which] seems pretty much where we are today [and] where money defines who you are and [where] the best con merchant gets to be president." The superficial surface humour and over-reliance on musical interludes and half-hearted attempts to encourage audience participation unfortunately distracted the spectator's attention from Hersov's intention, which was to create a commentary on self-serving greed with a contemporary resonance.'

Sue Hall-Smith, RORD 24 (2005), 125-7

List of reviews:

Lawrence Poole, 'Murphy's happy to stick to his acting law', Manchester Evening News, 4 October 2004 

Kevin Bourke, 'Volpone comes to life at the Exchange', Manchester Evening News, 22 October 2004

Natalie Angelsey, 'Volpone @ the Royal Exchange', Manchester Evening News, 27 October 2004

Sam Marlowe, 'Volpone', The Times, 27 October 2004

Serena Davies, 'Stomping descent to vaudeville', Daily Telegraph, 28 October 2004

Lynne Walker, 'Volpone', The Independent, 2 November 2004

Alfred Hickling, 'Volpone',  The Guardian, 4 November 2004