Ben Jonson's Volpone
adapted by Martin Foreman
He's dying to get rich
"He always liked you, sir. He says that men of your profession, lawyers who argue
black is white and black again till they are blue and hoarse, who can prove every act lawful,
who give both sides counsel and take gold from left and right . . .
Such a man should be his heir.
Wise and serious, with tongue that speaks neither truth nor lies without a fee."
With the aid of his wily servant Mosca, Volpone convinces the wealthy citizens of Venice that he is on his deathbed - prompting them to shower him with gifts in the hope that they will became his sole heir. Buoyed by success, the pair persuade merchant Corvino to offer his beautiful wife to bring Volpone back to health. Meanwhile a trio of English tourists gets involved in his Volpone's schemes and other pranks.
How will it all end?
Ben Jonson's rollicking satire has been filling theatres with laughter since 1605, but the further time pulls us from Jacobean English, the more difficult it becomes for modern audiences to understand his plot and humour. Even the most talented actors struggle with his language, while contemporary references to seventeenth century events lead only to blank stares three hundred years later. Add a four-hour running time, a nearly all-male cast and the problem of presenting a dwarf, eunuch and hermaphrodite as musical interludes and the difficulties of putting on a production that is faithful to the original appear insurmountable.
Martin Foreman's adaptation, premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, maintains all the elements of Jonson's plot while shortening the
script to two hours and updating the
language and setting to the nineteenth century. All Jonson's jokes that stand the test of time are retained,
while others are added to keep the laughter coming. The greatest change comes in transforming two leading characters into women. One is Corbaccia,
the old lady who disinherits her son to get Volpone's riches. The other is Volpone's servant, Mosca, whose quick thinking saves herself and her master from potential discovery and leads them towards even greater rewards. Meanwhile other characters, such as the judges who preside over Volpone's trial, may be played by men or women.
"thoroughly enjoyable ... keep you on your toes ... have you laughing"
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The 2017 world premiere of this adaptation of Volpone was presented by EGTG, an Edinburgh-based group that has brought a wide range of theatre, both old and new to the Scottish capital for over sixty years. The play, directed by the author in his fifth production at the Edinburgh Fringe, introduced a new generation to this classic comedy and was brought back to the Fringe in August 2018 for a three week run.
soft cover, 126pp
run time: 2h > 2h 15m: interval advised
cast: minimum 13 m/f with parts doubled, ages 18 - 80
set / costumes: theoretically late 19th century but adaptable