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The Devil is an Ass at Rose Playhouse review – ‘boisterous staging’

Mercurius' production of The Devil is an Ass at the Rose Playhouse, London Mercurius' production of The Devil is an Ass at the Rose Playhouse, London. Photo: Robert Piwko

The chill of the Rose Playhouse’s cramped excavation site has proven difficult for some previous productions to overcome. Returning company Mercurius has made what is either the best or the most tongue-in-cheek use of the theatre’s ruins to date: transforming them into the murky pits of hell.

It is the ever-present backdrop for this production of Ben Jonson’s comedy, in which the vainglorious Fitzdottrell is set upon by all manner of men – and one amateur devil – who wish to wring his naivety for all it’s worth.

Michael Watson-Gray is an masterfully ostentatious Fitzdottrell, setting a farcical tone, from which the rest of the cast sometimes slip – to the production’s detriment. He demonstrates that the zig-zagging plot works best when at its most flamboyant, a benchmark that Benjamin Garrison as the slippery Meercraft, with eyebrows that should take a credit of their own, is only too happy to match.

If only the glimpses of the distant underworld, which hugely expand the otherwise confined space, were not limited to the play’s beginning and end. A gangly demon thrust into spotlight on the far wall of the shadowy ruins, lit from beneath by the scarlet glow of the safety lights, provides one of the production’s most striking images.

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This boisterous staging of the Jacobean satire flares with timeless wit, but doesn't burn as brightly as it could