Great night on the prom for Jonson play at St Albans Old Town Hall
TO STAGE a Ben Jonson play in St Albans Town Hall and make it a promenade production was an ambitious move by Breakaway Theatre Company – and yet it worked extremely well.
Maybe it was the warm night or maybe the quality of the Breakaway production of Volpone but the audience seemed to have no objections to moving all around the building including the old courtroom itself even though there was a shortage of seats in some locations.
Breakaway are probably best known to St Albans audiences for their open-air productions at St Albans School, generally of Shakespeare plays. On the last occasion I criticised their production as being a bit stale but no such criticism could be levelled at Volpone.
The cast seemed to thoroughly enjoy their roles and adapted well to setting the play in the Roaring Twenties. From Volpone’s bedroom in the main upstairs room to the street scenes on the upstairs landings, they seemed completely unfazed by having the audience so close.
As well as the Breakaway regulars – Mark Summers as the butler Mosca, Helen Bird as Nano the Dwarf, Trevor D. Oakes as both Androgyno and a magistrate, David Martin as Sir Politic Would-Be and director Emma Summers as Castrone – the cast was bolstered by a lot of young fresh faces which is always good to see if the St Albans theatre scene is to evolve.
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Particularly impressive was Daniel Quirke as Corvino, one of three “suitors” trying to persuade Volpone to make them his heir. He had just the right degree of smarminess in his dealings with Volpone which contrasted dramatically with the way he treated his wife Celia, a fine performance from Katherine Weiner.
The other two “suitors” Chris Norton Walker as Voltore and Jill Davies as Corbaccia played their roles gleefully as they buzzed around the supposedly-ailing Volpone played by John Kensett.
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Claire Joyner as Lady Would-Be, whom Jonson saw as a parrot, was as screechy as the role suggests and her version of Rule Britannia drowned out everything including the spontaneous applause from the audience which greeted her solo.
My only reservations about what was otherwise a first-rate performance was that it was too long – losing the sub-plot would have shortened it without affecting the substance – and the acoustics in the courtroom were surprisingly poor considering it was once used for trials.
But overall this was Breakaway back at their best and director Emma Summers should take a bow for tackling it in the way she did.