Amateurs and professionals unite for Hackney-themed retelling of Volpone
- Credit: Archant
All across London, directors are increasingly looking towards fringe theatre as a means to reconnect with a wider audience and bring the art of storytelling back to the masses. In Hackney and Islington particularly, there have been many companies over the last few years eager to engage with local wards, but a new production in De Beauvoir Town is taking this further than most.
The Hackney Volpone – a vibrant reworking of Ben Jonson’s Jacobean classic – is not only re-launching the area’s Rose Lipman building as a theatre venue, but also features De Beauvoir actors and is offering a limited number free tickets to those from the town. In every sense, it is a production with Hackney at its heart.
“I wanted to do a classic play that was slightly less well known than Shakespeare, even though it’s probably Ben Jonson’s most famous work,” says director Anna Jones.
“I wanted to do a comedy as well and this one really spoke to me because of the themes of greed and riches and how some people will stop at nothing to get them. It seemed a topic that’s probably quite relevant to London and the world now.”
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The classic story of Volpone sees a Venetian gentlemen fake his own death to trick three greedy men who are trying to attach their name to his will. Jones’ version is by NYLon in association with The Mill Co.Project and was co-conceived by Jamel Rodriguez, who stars as Volpone alongside professional and amateur actors.
Jones continues: “As a person, I really like that combination because the enthusiasm of an amateur approach is really infectious and often gets to the heart of the meaning as people find a way to relate to it more quickly than perhaps we do in the professional world.
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“Then the professionals I think give something back to the community; there’s a really nice trade-off that happens between the two groups. It’s exciting for the community actors to work with people who are at the top of their game.”
The hope, Jones says, is that the local actors learn from being around the professionals so, in the end, audiences can barely tell the difference. For a classical production, she is proud that the Hackney Volpone is unusually diverse and believes it is important that theatre-goers are able to “recognise London on the stage”.
The youngest De Beauvoir cast member, Keon Martias-Phillip, is aged 17, while the oldest, Carol Rowley, has lived there for 53 years.
This blend of generations will be reflected in the play which, although faithful to Jonson’s original text, also tries to address the changing culture of Hackney.
In this respect, the re-launch of the Rose Lipman Building is particularly poignant.
“There’s a really nice feel about telling stories in this kind of hall. We have a stage and of course it’s a theatrical experience, but the design is based on what the hall looks like and adding to that, rather than pretending we’re not inside it.
“I really like working in non-theatre buildings because you immediately offset an audience’s expectations. They’re walking into what, for lots of people in the area, will be somewhere they’ve used for many other purposes.
“There’s a pre-school downstairs where quite a lot of people who came in for auditions went to, so they’ve got a better ownership of the building than we do really.”
The Hackney Volpone runs at the Rose Lipman Building from July 23 to August 9. Tickets are £12 and a limited number are being offered free to De Beauvoir residents who email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit themillcoproject.co.uk