Review: Fast-paced production shows eternal truth of Jonson play

Volpone, RSC
Volpone, RSC

Volpone, Royal Shakespeare Company, Swan Theatre

Until September 12

We are so far from Ben Jonson’s 17th century mockery of materialism that’s it’s almost impossible to believe we have learnt so few lessons since.

For the team behind RSC’s Volpone, the satirical comedy may as well as been written for the Facebook generation.

Greed, self importance and con tricks are dragged brilliantly into the 21st century – and complete with pouting selfies, they are not a bit out of place in a re-imagining of Jonson’s vision.

Drawing on everything from his world and ours, artistic director Trevor Nunn and stage star Henry Goodman deliver a real treat.

The story centres simply on greed. The man who has everything, yet will stop at nothing to double it.

“Riches, the dumb God, that giv’st all men tongues; That canst do nought, and yet mak’st men do all things.”

It rings effortlessly true as we watch the three vultures desperately clamber for favour by disinheriting a son, offering up a wife and setting about self destruction in power and greed at its worst.

Turned on a 2015 audience, the 400-year-old satire resonates instantly.

We get businessmen filming brawls on their mobiles, rap, comedy club style monologues, and of course the unforgettable performance by fashionista, Lady Would-be. Even the Tim Burton-esque team of eunuch, hermaphrodite and dwarf fit perfectly.

But Goodman is the hero of the stage, effortless in taking on the changing faces of a modern day trickster.

Volpone is a liar and a cheat. He is everything we should detest, yet Goodman’s charisma and energy has us rooting for him at every turn.

His enthusiasm, sprite and wickedness were a delight to watch.

We are led wide-eyed into his corner. We will him to outdo the would-be-inheritors scrambling for his fortune, and we tire of the drippy innocence of Celia or Bonario.

The lessons in the timeless play are endless and perfectly presented by truly excellent cast.

But above all the morality and the prestige, the performance is funny, fast paced and engaging. Put simply, it is thoroughly entertaining all round and a genuine must-see this summer.

Visit the RSC online for tickets and booking.

By Hannah Smith