A New Modern Take on Dante's Divine Comedy Doesn't Disappoint

Penny Flood enjoys an imaginative production at Barons Court Theatre

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It never ceases to impress me that this unassuming little theatre in a pub cellar attracts such talent.  New writing and revivals  I've seen some great stuff here and this latest production - a new working of Dante's Divine Comedy -  doesn't disappoint. 

It's a poem,  written in the fourteenth century telling the story of Dante, a young man on the verge of suicide over the death of Beatrice, the woman he'd loved since childhood, exploring what would happen when he passed over. It's how he imagines a being moves through the nine circles of hell in order to get to paradise.

The story starts in hell where Dante, is met by the ghost of the poet Virgil who has been summoned by Beatrice to guide him to paradise. Apart from Dante and Virgil there is a cast of just seven who play all the characters moaning, groaning, weeping and limping their way through hell and on to paradise where they become saints who, confounding expectations, are torturing thugs in hi-viz jackets.

It's Dante lite, but the adaptation hasn't diminished the spirit of the original nor the theological arguments although it's cut them down a bit. Sometimes, to speed thing up they revert  to modern dialogue and fruity language with a few  witty touches. We know when they've arrived in purgatory as there's underground station sign, and when they set off for Paradise they go on the underground, strap hanging and swaying as they sing and wonder what awaits them there.

It's an ambitious undertaking in limited surroundings with only sticks and chairs for props, but it's the genius use of lighting and shadows that really carries it off. An angel sprouts wings, a balloon become a head and speaks, and with some cardboard cut outs one of the sinners gets eaten by dogs. Later, instead of crossing the River Styx, Dante is carried through space with impressive use of what looks like footage from the Hubble Telescope and/or the International Space Station.

It's a production of the Kensington Drama Company, a young talented group who act sing and dance beautifully. Much as I'd love to tell you more about them I can't as there were no programmes.  When I went last night the theatre was sold out, and I'm delighted because something this good deserves an audience. And it's a great opportunity to see a very accessible modern take on one of the classics which don't get an outing very often.

Dante's Divine Comedy runs until 8 April at 7.30pm. The third and final production from Kensington Drama Company will be Den of Thieves running from 11 - 15 April.

Tickets cost £10 or £12 concessions.

Barons Court Theatre is at the Curtain's Up pub in Comeragh Road, W14 and tickets for all productions can be booked by calling 0208 932 4747 or by emailing londontheatre@gmail.com stating performance and number of tickets required. Pay in cash, when you come to the performance.

March 13, 2014

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