Matthew Richardson’s austere production of Rigoletto rattles the rafters of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow on an exuberant first night’s debut.
Thrown into a strange dystopian world that is part German expressionist cinema, part Berlin cabaret and part film noir, the classic (and at times clunky) Verdi standby is given a new lease of life on Jon Morrell’s imaginative set, as we are flung mercilessly into a landscape where women either don’t exist or are represented by opal-eyed manikins and automatons. Angles are extreme in Caligari-esque vistas, and an ingenious use of doors and painted curtains challenge our viewpoint and the fourth wall, throwing us from watching the performance from the traditional auditorium to suddenly being backstage and seeing the action through open transoms and doors left ajar.
Richardson admirably overcomes the traditional staging problems of Rigoletto with imaginative movement, shadows and choreography, and the early acts, with their oddly jolly blasts of music interrupting the mood of the superb Verdi score, are played more like black comedy than tragedy—the scene where the masked all male chorus abduct Rigoletto’s daughter is simultaneously camp and stomach churning—a device that serves only to heighten the truly magnificent final act, where we are transported to the sharply angled assassin’s house where Maddalena, his buxom sister—in true film noir style—lures the lecherous Duke to his death.
Aris Argiris—despite being smitten by a cold—gives a heartfelt performance in the title role, excellently supported by David Shipley as Sparafucile the assassin, but the real star of the show is the totally astounding Lina Johnson, who absolutely shines in the difficult role of Gilda, Rigoletto’s virginal daughter kept prisoner in a gilded cage within a predatory world of feral males.
Now almost two hundred years old, tonight’s performance of Rigoletto proves that it is still very much a piece for our times, particularly in Trump’s America and pre-Brexit Britain, portraying, as it does, a world where the poor and the innocent suffer, and the rich and powerful receive no comeuppance for their crimes.