The Revenger's Tragedy, Olivier, National Theatre, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

In Melly Still's excellent modern-dress version of Thomas Middleton's black Jacobean jamboree (which is in the Travelex £10 season), he keeps the skull of his betrothed, Gloriana, in a shoebox as an incitement to retribution against the evil duke who poisoned her when she resisted his sexual advances. To reinforce the sense of morbid obsession, there's also a computer-generated image here of a female face that explodes to reveal the bony horror beneath.

Transforming himself from greasy-locked fanatical recluse to shaven-headed East End wide-boy for his incognito at court, Rory Kinnear superbly captures the conflicted essence of the hero. Impassioned satiric scourge and cool prankster, he's like an unholy mix of John Osborne and Joe Orton. His performance is both bravura and psychologically subtle, backed up by a production full of intriguing insights. It feels piercingly sad here that Gloriana's skull winds up as part of grotesque revenge-device: a poisoned mannequin which Kinnear's Vindice handles – with scathing yet sorrowful wit – like a ventriloquist's dummy. And it's a wonderfully penetrating touch that, in the bloody orgasm of vengeance, he fails to notice that Gloriana's ghost has risen and walked away.

Booking to 7 August (020-7452 3000)