Like Hamlet but without the thumb twiddling!

Scenes from the production of The Revenger's Tragedy
Scenes from the production of The Revenger's Tragedy
As You Like It, with Jessica Hayles centre. Picture by Keith Pattison

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Forget Soop’s reputation for devising imaginative comic theatre from scratch. For its next production the Havant-based company is tackling a classic tragedy.

‘We like to set ourselves seemingly impossible tasks,’ director Nathan Chapman says.

‘This time the intention is to take a recognised tragic text and find the funny side!’

The play is The Revenger’s Tragedy, an early 17th century work usually attributed to Cyril Tourneuer.

Nathan has created a 90-minute version of it and is also one of only four actors taking part – all playing multiple roles.

‘It’s hectic,’ he says, ‘but we want the show to appeal to a young audience and the way we are doing that is by keeping the pace up and making the style big and bold and brash.’

The Revenger’s Tragedy has long been on the syllabus as an A-level set study, and Nathan hopes Soop’s interpretation will encourage people to see it as fresh and new rather than as a dusty 400-year-old morality tale.

He says: ‘One academic has described it as “subversive black camp” and that was my route into the play.

‘I’m not sure if I’d describe our version as camp, but we are emphasising the decadence of the story.’

The Revenger’s Tragedy is a typical revenge tale, with Vindice out to avenge the murder of his lover at the hands of a corrupt Duke.

It has strong parallels with Hamlet, sharing similar plot elements, but Nathan says the main difference is Vindice’s willingness to take action.

‘Whereas Hamlet spends four-and-a-half hours wondering whether he should kill his uncle, Vindice jumps straight on in there.

‘There is something very naughty, even gleeful, about the way characters here commit sinful acts. That’s where it is subversive, and where there is material for a black comedy.

The Revenger’s Tragedy is like Hamlet without the moralistic thumb-twiddling!’

To bring out the brash, comic style, Soop has again employed designer Francine Huin-Wah to create masks and puppets to enhance the visuals.

Nathan says: ‘What she has produced for us is truly wonderful – striking, grotesque masks that really help the actors with their characters, and some extraordinary puppets which I think will be a highlight of the performance.’

Joining Nathan in the cast are Alice Corrigan, Rachel Carter and Henry Oastler, reflecting Soop’s desire to provide opportunities for local performers to have a taste of professional touring.