For a minute, I thought I’d walked into a puppet theatre version of
Perhaps Runaground should have considered playing this as a comedy—the very capable cast are certainly already embracing the occasional laughs they’re getting.
While Runaground are certainly not at fault for the performance space they’ve got, they’ve failed to adapt to it and the show suffers for it. It’s hard to take this grand, romantic epic about love and honour seriously when someone dramatically dies on an audience member’s shoes. While the cast are committed and talented actors, their performances are too outsized for this intimate space. There’s a lot of screaming, writhing and gnashing of teeth. The period dress is badly executed (bare female arms? In the 16th century?) and for some reason the villain always enters to a swishing sound effect, as though a giant bat is swooping down on us. Whenever he soliloquizes, we’re treated to the sound of crows cawing.
Webster’s limping attempt at a macabre play is a challenge to perform in the first place — the long, dragging plot features plenty of sex, death, madness, incest and lycanthropy (yes, lycanthropy, why not?). It would be difficult to keep even the most massive, stately production from becoming unintentionally hilarious, but at this close range the laughs are inevitable. In the final ten minutes, the anguish and violence escalate to the point of hilarity.
Perhaps Runaground should have considered playing this as a comedy—the very capable cast are certainly already embracing the occasional laughs they’re getting. In such a small space, their knowing asides to the audience also work beautifully as comedy. At the very least, this production would benefit from stripping down to a more intimate, minimal approach.