Dante’s Divine Comedy
Barons Court Theatre
Reviewed – 5th September 2017
“needs more than prayers if it wants to impress and do this masterpiece justice”
Dante’s Divine Comedy, written by Dante Alighieri in 1320, is an epic poem seen as one of the greatest in world literature. So It Goes Theatre Company attempted to revive this great masterpiece on the stage breathing some contemporality to this renown text. Whilst, it’s an ancient tale it does still grip and give each kind of audience interesting perspectives, thoughts and discussions to be had after the show.
The story is that of Dante Alighieri (played by Alex Chard), on the brink of death is visited by the great poet Virgil (played Jack Blackburn) who on the request of Dante’s ex-lover Beatrice (played by Kathryn Taylor-Gears) is taken on a metaphysical journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. In his journey, we are meant to see Dante’s development from someone who was suicidal to one who negated Heaven for wanting to feel life’s suffering once more.
Knowing that I was going to have to review this production both excited and worried me as I was certain that it was either going to be incredible or terrible; in fairness, it was neither. Every production I review I truly hope the piece delivers, but, Douglas Baker’s take on this Divine Comedy just lacked various elements that would have raised the standard and impact of this piece.
I must congratulate Baker’s undertaking of this production as it is a really ambitious project, especially when doing it on a low budget. This did mean that costumes were really simple as the chorus wore simple white tops and black leggings; Dante wore a white t-shirt, checkered shirt with jeans similar to Virgil’s attire of a black t-shirt and jeans.
Personally, I did want for the costumes to have been better chosen. In particularly for the chorus, who for me brought a look similar to a GCSE drama class performance, bringing the aesthetic of this production down. This was pardoned somewhat with the production’s engaging use of animation, flashlights, and shadow puppetry.
However, the reality is the theatre space was the biggest damning thing of this production. This show should not be performing in such a space. It was too small to have the more impactful level of storytelling and detail that could have been carried. A lot of creative choices I can imagine would have likely been impeded because of this cramped space.
With such a space it was no wonder that the movement choreography by the chorus did not always feel aesthetically relevant to the piece. I was really surprised at the end when I read that this production did have a movement director – Matt Coulton. When watching the production I wouldn’t have said that a movement director had choreographed any of the movement sections. Some of the movement/choreography was awkward, unnecessary and repetitive.
The actors delivered a pretty good performance. At times lacking in energy and pace this young company did successfully collaborate to bring a pretty good production. I must commend the chorus as their energy and presence carried this piece. The diverse level of characterisation these 5 young performers portrayed on stage was really fun and engaging to watch. I was never bored throughout this piece except on two parts; the awkward tube singing song to Purgatory and the tribal dance.
Jack Blackburn as Virgil was pretty sweet at times, bringing a bit of comedic relief to certain parts of the touristic journey through Hell. However, he should work throughout this run on working on his character’s intention to bring a more nuanced performance – in fact, a note I would give to all the actors – but this is especially more apparent in Virgil more intense and emotionally varied scenes between him and Dante.
Alex Chard as Dante began the piece quite meekly slowly developing his presence allowing me to warm up more to his character. I felt his character became much more defined and clear particularly in the scenes with Beatrice played by Kathryn who brought a lovely depiction and presence to Dante’s dead lover. I really enjoyed the scenes between Alex and Kathryn. It was in these scenes that I felt began to become more the role of Dante. I understand that up until the point of meeting Beatrice, Dante’s character himself is developing, learning and changing but for us the audience to see and experience his enlightenment from this ethereal journey, we need a strong initial image of who Dante was to who Dante becomes and at the moment this piece doesn’t deliver that.
This was overall an enjoyable piece to watch but it will need more than prayers if it wants to impress and do this masterpiece justice.
Reviewed by Daniel Correia
DANTE’S DIVINE COMEDY
is at Baron’s Court Theatre until 30th September