David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
"Good morning to the world; and next, my gold." In the opening line of Volpone, his splendidly savage satire, Ben Jonson doesn't waste time before leaping upon his theme. Avarice, however, is not the only idea he explores in the play. The other is what was once termed health and efficiency.

The central character lies in bed, feigning mortal illness in order to accumulate gifts from greedy "friends", all feverishly desperate to be remembered in his will. There are seemingly no depths to which Volpone and his parasitical sidekick Mosca will not stoop. "There's a strong link between moral imperfection and physical imperfection which is interesting for us to explore." Far from being some kind of nasty body fascist, Ewan Marshall is speaking from an enlightened point of view. He's about to open Flesh Fly (with Nabil Shaban, right), Trevor Lloyd's adaptation of Volpone. What makes this profoundly different from the average revival is that Marshall is artistic director of Graeae, Europe's leading theatre company of disabled people.

"The play is steeped in irony. This adaptation is written for an all- disabled cast, which opens up another level. Having a disabled man feigning illness is really interesting," Marshall explains.

There are, of course, many ways of reading plays and different audiences will pick up on different elements. People with disabilities (by no means the majority of their audiences) are clearly attuned to certain things which productions can enhance or illuminate. Having disabled actors playing evil characters throws the company into similar territory to their previous hit, the riotously well-reviewed production of the classic turn-of-the- century offender of "good taste", Ubu. "There are all sorts of lines about becoming 'Sick and lame indeed as punishment'. It's great territory for us."

'Flesh Fly' is at Oval House, London SE11 (0171-582 7680) from tomorrow, prior to a national tour

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