Returning to The Baron’s Court Theatre for a second and extended run, Dante’s Divine Comedy takes a 700 year old narrative poem and injects some modern day life in to it. Adapted and directed by Douglas Baker, the audience are taken along on a journey through a world which, when it was written, had never been imagined in this way.
Dante Alighieri, who wrote the original, has been exiled for a long period of time and is on the verge of committing suicide. The Roman poet, Virgil, appears and offers him to show him what no mortal has seen before; Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Virgil takes Dante through each of the circles of hell, encountering an impressive mixture of characters, all who are damned to eternity. Dante meets some familiar faces along the route, who urge him to change his ways, lest he suffers the same fate as them.
The journey continues into Purgatory, which in very British fashion involves a long queue and a ride on the Underground. Virgil can take Dante no further, and it falls to Dante’s long deceased lover, Beatrice, to introduce him to the cold and emotionless lower echelon of Heaven.
The term ‘comedy’ refers to the style of writing of the period, but there are a few laughs sprinkled in to the complex prose, which is less burdensome and modernised in this version. We do find 21st century elements creeping their way into both the text and the performance, but has it been fully updated? Probably not; we do hear a character exclaim “bollocks” and St. Peter is a high-vis wearing gangster type, to modernise it further may well have damaged the allegoric and philosophical nature of the story.