Arts: Theatre: Greed is still good

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The Independent Culture
OPENING THE season at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Lindsay Posner directs an incisive and highly entertaining revival of Ben Jonson's Volpone.

The thrust stage is dominated by a tall, blasphemous cabinet containing a great cascade of golden objets, and fronted by a crucifix on which, supplanting Christ, a dead monkey has been roped. At the back, the carcasses of swans and other game dangle from hooks.

This symbolic juxtaposition (the glittering incorruptibility of gold contrasted with the putrefaction of the flesh) shrewdly epitomises the neurosis that drives Jonson's hero. His idolatrous fetishising of glittering inorganic treasure stems from an abnormal dread of personal decay and death.

Ironic, then, that his celebrated scam involves him pretending to be bedridden and dying so as to fleece the predatory flatterers who ply him with gifts in the hope of being made his heir.

Malcolm Storry delivers Jonson's muscular verse with great beauty and intelligence but remains a little too ruggedly virile for the perverted, ingrown atmosphere that Posner has rightly created.

However, Guy Henry is a joy as Mosca, the sidekick worm that turns. Pretending to be all soulful solicitude with the greedy, obsessive dupes, he allows a glimpse of casual private contempt for them to flicker subversively in his eyes.

When he launches into Mosca's marvellous speech of soaring awe at his own devious ingenuity, Mr Henry's lanky limbs tense and buckle as if suppressing a rocket energy that would take him through the roof. Not to be missed.

Booking: 01789 295623. A version of this review appeared in later editions of the main section