Horrid touches that give this Fox an enviable edge

First Night Volpone Swan Theatre Stratford

LINDSAY POSNER'S incisive RSC production of Volpone is dominated by a monstrous cabinet filled with a suspended avalanche of glittering golden objets and fronted by what looks to be a deceased monkey strapped to a large crucifix. At the back of the stage are the corpses of swans and assorted furry creatures. The juxtaposition of these articles - the sterile incorruptibility of the gold contrasted with the putrefaction of flesh - epitomises the neurosis that drives the Venetian magnifico who is the hero of this play.

It's because he abnormally dreads decay and death that he fetishises in organic treasure and it's that, plus the sheer intellectual kick of the thing, that has motivated his three-year scam of pretending to be a mortally sick invalid so as to fleece predatory flatterers who, desperate to be made his heir, bribe him with booty.

Malcolm Storry is a much more virile and rugged Volpone than is usual and his wonderful dark, stained voice does honour to Jonson's muscular verse. But in some way he's an odd choice, since Posner lays great stress on the perverted inward-looking atmosphere of Volpone's home (the hero is discovered in bed at the start with his whimpering dwarf eunuch and hermaphrodite) and what is stifling about the scam. A fat, faggoty Volpone would be a more logical outgrowth of this environment. The farce of the legacy-hunters is wittily orchestrated, with Guy Henry a joy as Mosca, the sidekick worm who turns.

The unloveliness of cupidity is vividly underlined. There's a wonderful moment when, sacking the dwarf, eunuch and hermaphrodite, this Mosca tosses a handful of gold coins through the door. They gambol, gibbering, after them, a Jacobean foretaste of "release into the community". It's horrid touches like that that put the fangs in this Fox.

Paul Taylor

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