'Dante's Inferno' review or (Somersaults, spiritual crises and a sing song)

Dante's Inferno, Craft Theatre 
Rag Factory, 16th January 2014 
Written for Time Out 



During rehearsals for ‘Dante’s Inferno’, one of the play’s ensemble actors, Kan Bonfils, died. It’s an awful and bizarre situation and you have to admire Craft Theatre for forging ahead. Bonfils’s death certainly adds a sad piquancy to this story of one man’s journey through hell, adapted from Dante’s epic poem ‘The Divine Comedy’. But this is a shaky and self-indulgent show and, for much of the time, it feels like we’re stuck in the first circle of hell: limbo.

The piece begins in the real world, where we watch one man succumb to the pressures of modern day living. It initially feels like director Rocky Rodriguez Jr has chosen to transpose Dante’s nine circles of hell into everyday life, as we see flickers of greed, lust and treachery flare up. But just as this allegory is beginning to stick, the action re-locates to hell, then (possibly) paradise and finally back down to earth again. It’s all pretty baffling. 

The audience seems unsure whether to gasp or giggle. The production is one part physical theatre to two parts preachy moralising, as the script warns us about the emptiness of a consumerist existence: ‘Your life is hell!’ The scenes are played against an empty stage except for a few gym mats, over which the actors perform endless somersaults and frog-like leaps. 

The company, led by Lucas John Mahoney, is super committed – but it is hard to connect with such a see-sawing production. The only scenes that tingle are the purely physical ones. As Mahoney enters hell, he is clawed at by ghosts. The cast sing a piercing choral tune and carry Mahoney across a shadowy stage and, just for a second, the space feels almost spiritual.

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