By Nate John
If I had to describe Wrong Tree’s Inferno in a sentence, I would say, ‘It is a postmodern flesh ballet of an existential allegory’, and I mean that in the best possible way. I asked to review this as a big fan of Dante’s Divine Comedy, so I was more than ready to rip into this production for being an overdone satirical trope, but upon seeing the performance I have come across something very different. A well-choreographed piece dedicated to a modern view of the medieval Hell Dante so carefully described. I have gathered from their extensive blogging that the piece’s creation was largely collaborative with the writer, Florence Petrie, the director, Henry Gould, musical director, Emily Winters, and the very talented cast in contributing to the overall evolution of the show during their extensive rehearsal schedule.
The use of music in the piece is incredibly interesting. Winters and her band have done very well considering the challenge of this constantly evolving piece. Often adapting classics to create an eerie hellish atmosphere, the creative output of adaptation and creation is truly astounding musically. Unlike most productions I have seen in Durham that have tried to layer music over dialogue, the actors in this play were audible throughout. Musically, the one flaw was that it dragged out initially (starting before the curtain is pulled back).
From a technical standpoint, I really enjoyed the use of lights from opening to closing. Astrud Turner and her team had really outdone themselves in creating a great environment of lights and sound cues that perfectly encapsulated the environment.
And finally, the play itself. Seeing the antiquated system of hell through the eyes of Isabel McGrady’s Arabella was quite an interesting take. “Modernising” Inferno means creating a new modern incarnation of Hell. The tantalising ‘what if’ element of the Catholic consensus regarding Dante was incredibly intriguing.
One of my main issues, as a massive nerd, is the characterisation of the Devil, an amalgamation of Milton’s Satan and modern conceptions. For me, he was just a bit too physically violent and wrathful. In my mind, Lucifer’s main sin is Pride and any Wrath that he wields should emanate from that Pride being wounded. Semantics aside Patrick Palmer did an excellent job in his portrayal of Lucifer, although the slick-backed hair Devil was not as modern as the surrounding aspects of the play. The play is really made by the cohesive adaptiveness of the devilish and damned ensemble though.
Serving as both the setting, the plot and, as characters, the ensemble is an expertly created example of choreography and background characterisation manifested in five talented individuals. The highlights of these terrible troubadours would be Harry Twining and Fionna Monk, who were both captivating as ensemble members, but also truly captured the essence of their individual characterisations. Monk’s boardroom scene was truly a masterwork of surrealism, comedy, and visual storytelling that really stuck out from the performance as truly remarkable.
On the whole, Inferno does more than the simple satirisation of a trope-ridden genre: it creates an interesting allegory of our modern times, which though familiar to us existential teens craving postmodern memes, still presents a poignant message over our cultural notions over Hell, the afterlife and religion a whole.
Inferno is showing at The Assembly Rooms on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd February 2018.
Photograph: Mark Norton