The Revenger's Tragedy, NT Olivier, London
Hysteria, St Bart's Hospital, London
Love: the Musical, Lyric Hammersmith, London
Rosmersholm, Almeida, London

Tit-for-tat knife crime, Jacobean style: Decadence leads to downfall at the National; elsewhere it's all repression and geriatric love




Rory Kinnear's Vindice is the avenger. Clutching a skull like some half-crazed cousin of Hamlet's, he mutters feverishly at the start of Thomas Middleton's Jacobean bloodbath, The Revenger's Tragedy. He vows that he'll purge the world of the lech-erous, luxuriating Duke who has poisoned his beloved virgin-bride.

In this modern-dress production, Kinnear has a touch of the fundamentalist terrorist – in this case, a sin-obsessed Christian one. He starts off with a long beard and ascetic uncut locks. These are shaved off only when he disguises himself as a wide boy to infiltrate the Duke's coterie of sleazy fashionistas. In due course, the royals hire their would-be scourge as a procurer and hit man. Middleton certainly had a sardonic eye for twisted and compromised morals.

But director-designer Melly Still does not overemphasise the notion of the zealous fundamentalist. Nonetheless, Kinnear does end up surrounded by corpses in a palace that pointedly resembles a decadent nightclub. Pounding hiphop beats accompany the revels where brutal crimes go unheard – as Vindice observes – "thanks to loud music". The tit-for-tat stabbings have grim reverberations too as, instead of swords, knives are pulled from designer jeans.

This production certainly has its weaknesses. Oddly, considering Still's record as a physical-theatre director, the choreography is lame. Supposedly embodying bestial lust, one masked reveller prances around tossing a mane of matted dreadlocks, like something dragged in from Cats. The Goth computer graphics are, likewise, risibly naff, featuring a ghoulish visage sticking out a giant maggoty tongue. Has the NT signed some pact to be remorselessly multimedia, regardless of quality?

That said, it's exhilarating to see this famed but rarely aired drama. The verse-speaking is splendidly lucid in meaning and – even if Middleton was immature, and his storyline scrappy – his poetry is a vibrant mix of the ornate and the blunt. His so-called tragedy boldly veers into morbid farce, sparking explosive laughter. In one unforgettably macabre scene – a Psycho for the 17th century – Kinnear turns puppeteer, dressing up his beloved's skull in a femme-fatale wig and frock. This actor has great deadpan timing and, although he might have sustained more of his initial manic intensity, he is clearly relishing this mercurial leading role.

From what I could tell the all-female inmates in the 19th-century Rio de Janeiro asylum in Hysteria have been incarcerated for not managing to become demure wives. This production sounds, on paper, like an intriguing site-specific experiment and Brazil's equivalent of Marat/ Sade. The visiting troupe, Grupo XIX de Teatro, are performing in an oak-panelled great hall hidden away in St Bart's Hospital, and the audience are divided by gender. The women are seated in the playing area, where they are inspected for lice, asked personal questions and befriended by the patients who scamper around in wispy petticoats and old lace. In practice, this show is almost complete gobbledegook. I deciphered, maybe, one word in five due to hopeless acoustics and heavily accented, fantastically wobbly English. I did work out that the frequent talk of Arthur Weemin alluded not to a mystery gentleman but to additional members of the fair sex, and I distinctly caught one worrying cry about being "oppressed by the uterus". This was between bouts of praying, folk dancing and screaming fits (theirs, not mine).

The men, by the way, are completely sidelined. Yet miraculously, amid this collective losing of the plot, the cast manage to be ineffably charming. They have an innocence that makes their funny little probing chats with the ladies of 21st-century London strangely touching.

Out of the asylum and into the old people's home. The core idea behind Love: the Musical has surely been nabbed from the American OAPs' choir, Young @ Heart. Co-devised and directed by Gisli Orn Gardarsson – in collaboration with David Farr – Love features a community chorus of local pensioners singing everything from "When I'm Sixty-Four" to "Que sera sera". But they're also combined with a handful of professional actors and a storyline. Widowed and dumped by her son, Anna Calder-Marshall's Margaret is an unwilling care-home resident who, however, finds a new sweetheart in Julian Curry's eccentric gentlemanly Neville.

One can only take one's hat off to the whole cast for being so game – especially Curry who wanders through one scene naked as a newborn babe, clasping a small bunch of flowers. Both he and Calder-Marshall have innate dignity and, arguably, this is the septuagenarian generation's answer to My Beautiful Laundrette – out of the closet and celebrating their capacity for romance.

However, Gardarsson (best known as a physical-theatre performer) leaves everyone struggling with wooden dialogue and risibly ill-fitting songs. What is really exposed here is his embarrassing lack of fine-tuning as a director-devisor. His sentimentality makes On Golden Pond look hardcore. I staggered around in the interval feeling as if he'd added 10 years to my life though, again remarkably, Curry and Calder-Marshal rise above this for a moment of Romeo and Juliet-like poignancy, right at the end.

Finally, Ibsen's little-known tragedy Rosmersholm proves gripping, with chilling twists, in Anthony Page's scrupulously naturalistic period production. Helen McCrory plays the unmarried freethinker, Rebecca, who finds herself in deep water when the conservative local politician, Kroll, embarks on a smear campaign. He claims she's far more than just the housekeeper to Paul Hilton's radicalised socialist Rosmer. Page's anti-melodramatic approach keeps the dialogue quietly enthralling as it shifts between political debate and exposed passion. McCrory's springy self-assurance unravels, distressingly, before your eyes. Meanwhile, Malcolm Sinclair's Kroll has a rabid Christian fervour that makes him sound like another scary fundamentalist.



'The Revenger's Tragedy' (020 7452 3000) to 7 August; 'Hysteria' (0845 120 7550) to 14 June; 'Love' (0871 221 1722) to 21 June; 'Rosmersholm' (020 7359 4404) to 5 July

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin