I suspect Damned By Despair director Bijan Sheibani’s DVD collection includes at least a couple of action flicks. It must do, for in Tirso De Molina’s drama there’s a nod to Quentin Tarantino’s Resevoir Dogs so clear it may as well be a head butt, and a swing of a golf club that has been chipped straight in from any number of gangster movies.
Throw in a strangling, a hanging and a multiple shooting and you get what could be a spectacle of knee-wobbling violence and splattering blood to make you wince with imagined pain. In fact, the red stuff is rare on the Olivier stage when, actually, these confrontational scenes could have done with a little more crash, a lot more bang and a truck load of wallop to crank up the visceral nature of the acts that should be horrific, turn the audiences’ stomachs and set them firmly against gangster Enrico.
He’s not a very nice man at all. In the hands of Bertie Carvel – back as a baddie after his Olivier Award-winning turn as Matilda The Musical’s Miss Trunchbull – this knife-wielding lunatic resembles a slightly tubby Freddie Mercury, his softly spoken countertenor tones lending a peculiar sinisterness to his pre-homicidal ponderings.
No wonder the pious Paulo is a touch put out when tricked into believing his unearthly fate will match that of the man who boasts so outrageously about his life of crime. Paulo’s been hermitting it up on a hillside for the last decade to atone for his sins, but a moment of doubt opens the door for Amanda Lawrence’s amiably chatty Devil and he’s off down the route to self-destruction, and Naples, faster than you can say “Does anyone fancy a pizza?”
By Paulo’s side on the road to hell is the piece’s comedy character, Pedrisco (Rory Keenan), who while Paulo is ranting about his wasted years and his lot in life, and Enrico is trying to balance mass murder with looking after his sickly father – he’s a gangster who loves his old dad – steals all the best lines in Frank McGuinness’ new version of Molina’s drama, which manages to squeeze twee phrases like “this is a right pickle” alongside epic proclamations about being “torn asunder”.
When all the fighting’s done, the morality of the piece, which was written by a Spanish friar in the 17th century, is as plain to see as the shard of rock growing from the centre of the Olivier’s stage. No-one is beyond redemption, and keep an eye out for otherworldly entities eating ice-lollies, they’re not to be trusted.