Staging a long-dormant closet drama, even by such a flamboyant personality as Lord Byron, is always a challenge. Such pieces were often designed to be read aloud (or even silently), rather than staged in full: the imagination was deemed preferable to the constraints of nineteenth-century theatre practice. Yet, given the sheer variety of theatrical techniques on offer at a twenty-first century fringe festival - at times it seems that every third show here is ‘interactive,’ ‘immersive’, ‘promenade’, ‘physical’, ‘site-specific’ and/or ’experimental’ - it seems a pity that the team behind this latest production of Byron's closet drama Cain at Jury's Inn has chosen such a straightforward approach to reimagining the text for performance: the play is divided (somewhat inexplicably) between staged reading and a small-scale two-hander.
Byron's language is beautiful but hardly pacy and this production does little to counter the major problem with the text: that a philosophical monologue-trading between Lucifer and Cain over the course of fifty minutes doesn't necessarily make for the most scintillating drama.
That said, the actors do their best with the material and each does a thoroughly winning job. As perpetual second-favourite Cain, Alex Pardy brings a quiet, naturalistic touch to a role that could, thanks to Byron's perpetually bombastic language, have easily been exaggerated. Less subtle but by no means less watchable is Igor Memic as Lucifer. With a plasticine face that cranks up every emotion to eleven and a palpable intensity that makes us all too aware of his diabolical power, Memic plays Lucifer as equal parts Milton's Satan, Wilde's Lord Henry (complete with plenty of homoeroticism and a distractingly attractive wool coat), Byronesque and very much inhuman. Both actors are a joy to watch, and bring life and intensity to a script that does not always conjure such elements naturally. While this staging of Cain isn't always the best use of their talents, it's a pleasure to watch two such talented actors at work. I'll be seeing their next show.