Dante The Inferno
Leicester Square Theatre - lounge.
Adaptation can be difficult, just ask Charlie Kauffman and it requires a curious mix of skills to do well. A key point of the process is balancing creating something new and exciting whilst maintaining the integrity of the source. Dante The Inferno recently on at the Leicester Square Theatre didn’t quite achieve this balance but delivered some excellent performances that certainly gave a new perspective on the poem.
I have a certain level of cultural understanding of Dante’s Inferno - you can’t really gather creative degrees and not come into contact with the concepts - but haven't read the Divine Comedy. At many points in this production I felt lost, scrabbling around for cultural references that I could remember. For instance I knew that Dante’s journey when through nine the circles of hell and yet this adaption focused on three circles, which if contextualised within the piece wouldn’t have been a problem - but it wasn’t. The structure then was a writer character interacting with the devil in between weaving a separate stories around the circles ‘Lust’; ‘Gluttony’ and ‘Violence’. It was again, however unclear if these framework characters were witness to these stories, involved or just coexisting. Perhaps an audience who had read Inferno would be a little less lost than I was but accessibility is just as important for people without an intimate knowledge of the text - and would be an important point to consider if this adaptation was developed further.
Within the circles the writing and story was more assured. Although, it was a little unclear whose side we were supposed to be on in ‘Lust’ - the lovers or the murdering-Jack-the-Ripper type - who was being punished and for what was confusing. With ‘Gluttony’ there was a sad little moral tale of love and ‘Violence’ was given a contemporary voice with three short monologues about the potential life of one lost to gang violence. Whilst the style was quite different in each (influenced by three writers, adapter Nicholas Pelas, Natasha Jervis and Kevin Lee) this didn’t matter too much.
The performances throughout the show were strong. Rachel Summers as the ‘Satan character’ Roberta Fox, clearly revelled in her persona and it would have been nice to have unleashed the power of her character more. Peter Ravel-Walsh was suitable creepy and very versatile across his roles. He brought the necessary visceral physicality to ‘Gluttony’ that was quite confronting. The performance of Du’aine A Samuels was also impressive as his presence tormented the dreams of the one who had killed him. Overall the ensemble was cast well and the character well delivered.
In terms of design, the minimal set worked well and the costumes were good. A more free-flowing direction would have been better suited to the intimate space (less blackouts) but in writing, directing and performing Nicholas Pelas generally showed a solid graft. This work has good potential to develop as a longer project, but to do so should probably mean returning to the poem. For perhaps as much as anything else, adaptations should encourage you to engage with the source text, and seeing this production certainly did make me want to read the Divine Comedy.