Inferno is the first and, arguably, best part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Sin manifests itself. We see the evidence of our transgressions, even when they exist in a nasty, draconian framework. In their blurb UCLU Runaground boasts that their adaptation of this work will include ‘physical theatre, shadow puppetry, UV lighting, liquid light shows and an original soundtrack’. Regardless of the absence of shadow puppetry, which must have been excised recently, it’s a heavy load for a student production to take on. The company’s got mettle, clearly. But the smoke machines and poor projections don’t justify themselves; so don’t stay for these, stay for the physical theatre, because some of it is exceptional.

Inferno’s high points show there’s ample talent in UCLU Runaground, a company that cannot be said to lack ambition.

Dante, poet-hero, is brought through nether regions at the behest of Beatrice, goddess of divine love. Fellow poet Virgil accompanies him, acting as metaphysical docent to Dante’s bewildered tourist. They go deep down into the earth, flying through each circle of Hell to reach the goddess (and sidestepping the encounter with Satan in the original poem). Why? Well, it’s harder to understand without the context of the Comedy’s Purgatory and Paradise, so just accept that Dante is going to learn about God and humanity. He’s going to see sin incarnate, and here lies Inferno’s golden ticket: the mutilated symbols of sin are UCLU Runaground’s cast, people who can move and fuse into all manner of beast and bacchanal.

Hell’s guard dog, Cerberus, is three twisted bodies lying worm-like onstage, and here is the dilemma: only some of the physical theatre is worth it, but when it hits it’s a great boon to an otherwise lagging production. Centaurs are towering, fleshy bulks whose chunky bases sport supple human tops; Furies synchronise action through the uncanniness of UV-paint and darkness. It’s these moments that prove UCLU Runaground’s burgeoning professionalism. But they are rarer than they should be. Choreography commonly disappoints with loose routines that overrun their welcome. There's little tautness or dynamism onstage, to the extent that lengthier sequences come across as padding. Without substance, there’s a stoop into campiness; the actor playing Plutus and Malacoda suffers the brunt of this. Camp could work, but it muddles the rather dour aura that Virgil and Dante give off. All in all, the piece needs speeding up. Jack Tivey’s Dante moves towards melodrama when given the chance to pause longer than necessary. The opening drags too. Chucking the gristle would allow more time for the hero to work in his perspective; as it were, he’s a bit of an everyday audience to such a chilling event.

Inferno has the potential to be a great dramatisation. Directors Polly Creed and Roberto Valdo Cortese’s vision is coruscating, but it’s not executed to the degree it demands. Overstuffed tech and overlong movement deserve the cut in favour of leaner dialogue and narrative. However, Inferno’s high points show there’s ample talent in UCLU Runaground, a company that cannot be said to lack ambition. 

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The Blurb

An original adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s literary masterpiece, Inferno tells the story of one man’s cathartic voyage in search of spiritual peace. It is a kaleidoscopic story about love, fear and western philosophy. Following Dante and guided by the poet Virgil, we journey through the nine circles of Hell. The stories of the sinners and mythological creatures encountered are told through an exciting visual spectacle including physical theatre, shadow puppetry, UV lighting, liquid light shows and an original soundtrack. Review for The Jabberwocky (2015): 'A sensitive script, relatable characters and exquisite design... marvellous' ***** (