Wed 14th – Sat 24th August 2013


Lucy Wood

at 19:05 on 20th Aug 2013



A closet play, such as Lord Byron’s ‘Cain’, is not designed to be performed. Rather, it is something which is meant to be read either by a single person, in the same way that you might read a novel, or else by a small group of people. The decision then to adapt it for stage was an interesting one.

Unfortunately, that decision was about as interesting as it got.

The play started out with Cain (Alexander Pardy) declaring his hatred and revulsion at the world and his fury at his father, whose folly has cheated him out of his inheritance. Then in swoops Lucifer (Igor Memic) to tempt him and to test his faith.

After beginning with what was basically a dramatised lecture, as the actors glowered and glared at the audience over the reading stands, they then break out of their more confined roles and begin to stalk up and down the stage and really perform their parts.

There were a lot of things which the production did very well. Rio Matchett’s direction was at times excellent. The actors made very good use of limited space and limited props: a single sheet could become a metaphor for the whole of the sky, or the earth, or the womb from which Cain must re-emerge.

Similarly the characterisation of Lucifer was relatively strong. There was a definitely sense that Memic’s reading of the part had been heavily influenced by the charismatic Lucifer of John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. This really added to the production, even if it wasn’t taken far enough. For example there seemed to be moments when the actors hinted at a kind of sexual frissant between Cain and Lucifer. This could have been a fascinating angle on the story and a way to discuss the gulf in power, status and ability of the two men on stage. Sadly, however, any references to it were oblique and never given the necessary space to really develop into a plot point.

Ultimately it seemed that two good performances and some very good directing was let down by the script. Let me be clear: I do not mean the script of Byron himself, but rather their failure to adapt that script. Although alternations were clearly made, characters removed and some aspects of the play were intensified, the play was still not actually in a state to be performed. Removing a handful of characters and adding a few spotlights is not enough to make it a stage-worthy play.


Hannah Greenstreet

at 02:38 on 21st Aug 2013



Although Municipal Theatre London’s decision to stage the biblical closet drama, ‘Cain’, by Lord Byron, should be commended for its bravery, the production, directed by Rio Matchett, is incomplete and unsatisfying. The programme claims that the piece has been “adapted for the stage by the company.” However, apart from drastic cuts that remove any trace of plot (in this production Cain does not actually get round to killing Abel but spends a long time having a chat with Lucifer beforehand), there seems little sign of adaptation to the exigencies of theatre.

‘Cain’, or this version of it at least, does not work as a stage play. It is not dynamic but static. The staging also does not help this; Cain and Lucifer stand behind music stands for the first twenty minutes, which could be intended as a reference to the original performance conditions of ‘Cain’ but in fact serves to restrict movement. The performers, Alexander Pardey and Igor Memie, inexplicably do not look at each other for these first twenty minutes, despite standing next to each other on a small stage.

Although Pardey and Memie enunciate their lines clearly, there is not much variety in their performances, which range from angry, raised voices to tense, contemplative, quiet voices. There also does not seem to be much of a status difference between Cain and Lucifer. I understand that Cain is arrogant but surely Lucifer should have more poise than to lie down on the floor, cocooned in a red sheet, at the end of the play.

The excitement of ‘Cain’ no doubt comes from the bold ideas it raises rather than its (rather absent) plot: what happens to the distinction between good and evil if God and Satan act in similar ways? The reality of death, man’s faculty of reason, which gives him the ability to weigh up conflicting arguments and decide for himself. Nonetheless, the production has a tendency to go round in circles, which makes it rather difficult to summarise and to engage with. The ending (not the end of Byron’s ‘Cain’) is also confusing, leaving you wondering who has "won" and whether the characters have progressed at all since you first met them.

While ‘Cain’ has all the ingredients of a good reading of an interesting poem, it falls short of being good drama.


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