Written by Ben Jonson

Thursday 19th May to Saturday 21st May and Tuesday 24th May to Saturday 28th May 2011

Directed by Jeff Bone

Meet Volpone. Debauched aristocrat, master of disguise and con artist.

Armed with natural cunning and his wily sidekick Mosca, he tricks and swindles his way through the greedy and corrupt citizens of Venice. From flogging snake oil to feigning his own demise, no scheme is too despicable or too base in Volpone's pursuit of riches and excess.

Ben Jonson's Volpone is a savage and dark satire of greed and lust and amongst the finest of Jacobean comedies.

AuthorBen Jonson

Benjamin Jonson (1572 - 1637)

Ben Jonson was an Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly 'Volpone' and 'The Alchemist'. A man of vast reading and a seemingly insatiable appetite for controversy, Jonson had an unparallelled breadth of influence on Jacobean playwrights and poets.

Jonson's clergyman father died before he was born, but his mother remarried to a bricklayer. Jonson attended Westminster School before joining his stepfather in the bricklaying trade. After a stint in the army he joined a theatre company run by Philip Henslowe. Controversy struck early for Jonson when he was arrested for acting in a seditious satire called 'The Isle of Dogs' and in 1598 he even killed an actor named Gabriel Spencer in a duel. He was arrested and tried at the Old Bailey on a charge of murder and escaped hanging only by claiming 'benefit of clergy' - a provision by which criminals could receive a lesser sentence for some crimes - and was imprisoned.

It was after his release from prison that Jonson's first play, 'Every Man in His Humour' was performed at the Globe Theatre with a cast including William Shakespeare. The play made Jonson an instant celebrity and was followed with 'Every Man Out of His Humour' and 'Cynthia's Revels', both satirical comedies. The volatile Jonson made enemies among his fellow playwrights, and his 'The Poetaster' satirised the work of rivals Dekker and Marston. They responded with the vitriolic play 'Satiromastix', attacking Jonson and his work. Johnson's next two plays, 'Sejanus, His Fall' and 'Eastward Ho!' both landed him in trouble with the authorities. Jonson, a Catholic, was forced to appear before the Privy Council to answer charges of "popery and treason".

Despite his notoriety, Jonson was appointed court poet in 1605, and produced a number of highly successful court masques. It was during his period at court that Jonson wrote some of his most successful comedies, notably 'The Alchemist' (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614). He was created poet laureate in 1616. After he died Jonson was buried under a plain slab in Westminster Abbey which was later inscribed with the words, "O rare Ben Jonson".


Volpone (Italian for "The Big Fox") is a comedy by Ben Jonson first produced in 1606, drawing on elements of city comedy, black comedy and animal fable. A merciless satire of greed and lust, it remains Jonson's most-performed play, and it is among the finest Jacobean comedies.

Volpone, a Venetian gentleman, has amassed his fortune through dishonest means and likes to use his money extravagantly. He is pretending to be on his deathbed after a long illness in order to con Voltore, Corbaccio and Corvino in to giving him extravagant 'get-well' gifts. They in turn each aspire to his fortune and hope that in buying him gifts now, they will be favoured with being inscribed as Volpone's heir when he dies.

Mosca, Volpone's assistant, encourages them, making each of them believe that he has been named in the will. He encourages Corbaccio to disinherit his son in favour of Volpone. Mosca mentions in passing that Corvino has a beautiful wife, Celia, and Volpone is insistent that he must have Celia for himself. Mosca tells Corvino that Volpone requires sex with a young woman to help revive him, and will be very grateful to whoever provides the lady and the hopelessly shallow and gullible Corvino offers his wife.

Just before Corvino and Celia are due to arrive for this tryst to take place, Corbaccio's son Bonario arrives to catch his father in the act of disinheriting him. Mosca ushers him into a side room. Volpone is left alone with Celia and promises her luxuries beyond her wildest dreams in an attempt to curry favour - with disastrous consequences. The play culminates with Volpone having the announcement made that he has died and bequeathed his fortune to the lucky recipient - but with all the confusion and deceit, even that part of his plan is bound to go awry.

The Bench Production

Volpone poster image

This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


VolponeTerry Smyth
MoscaFrancine Huin-Wah
VoltoreMark Wakeman
CorbaccioRoger Wallsgrove
BonarioThomas Hall
CorvinoCallum West
CeliaLorraine Galliers
AvocatoriZoë Chapman
Sharon Morris
Diana Wallsgrove
Volpone's ChildrenZoë Chapman
Thomas Hall
Notario Jen Jones
SaffiHilary Davis
Venetian CitizensZoë Chapman
Hilary Davis
Diana Wallsgrove


Director Jeff Bone
Producer David Penrose
Assistant to the Producer Melanie Cole
Stage Managers Sharon Morris
Jen Jones
Lighting Design Jacquie Penrose
Lighting Operation Maurice Lillie
Jacquie Penrose
Sound Operation Melanie Cole
Costume Design Diana Wallsgrove
Costume Assistants Marion Simmons
Sue Dawes
Set Design Pete Woodward
Photography Dan Finch
Set Construction Thomas Hall
Callum West
David Penrose
Front of House Claire Lyne
Programme Editor David Penrose

Director's Notes

The Bench Theatre has not staged work by any of Shakespeare's contemporaries. When I read Volpone, I was immediately struck by its robust tone and hard-edged humour. With its darkly comic depiction of greed and avarice, it stands out as a still very relevant play for today.

I particularly like its use of animal fable. Each of the main characters is more caricature than naturalistic, almost cartoonish but not two-dimensional. As someone who draws cartoons himself, this aspect of the play particularly appeals to me. Finding ways of expressing these characteristics through performance and costume has been very enjoyable. Animal-like characters allow for heightened gesture, expression and behaviour in performance. The protagonists of Volpone are persuaded to commit the most outrageous acts in the pursuit of wealth and a bold, flamboyant tone is the best means to convey this.

I immediately became enthused with a suggestion that we bring the play into the 1930s for a modern audience. Between the wars, there was economic depression and hardship but there also a culture of decadence; something that would certainly appeal to the hedonistic Volpone. There are references to Venetian culture; masques and clowns from traditional Italian theatre. You may however notice hints of New York.

Jonson's plays have few roles for women. Before the casting process, I considered casting women in some of the male roles. Mosca in particular sometimes came across as a bit of a minx, buzzing about the stage, manipulating events and characters in turn. So I decided to cast an actress and play Mosca as a woman. With each rehearsal, a female Mosca brought a different dimension to the character and the humour that was very striking.

The play that you shall see tonight is an abridged version. The original script features a subplot of an English couple abroad, Sir Politic Would-Be and his wife and this has been cut. My aim has been for a more tight and well-paced staging of Volpone's escapades.

Jeff Bone


The NewsJames George

Volpone at The Spring, Havant

It's not often, locally, that you get to see Elizabethan or Jacobean drama other than old Bill Shakespeare - so first of all, let's thank Bench Theatre for giving us Ben Johnson's 1606 black comedy Volpone. And let's give thanks for the loss of the subplot about the holidaying English couple in Italy. This leaves us with a manageable two-and-a-half hours and focuses on Johnson's eponymous anti-hero, his sidekick and the consequences of their appalling greed.

Praise where praise is due but, that said, several times on opening night there was a distinct sense of actors floundering for words, including leading man Terry Smyth. Physically, Smyth is a great, gangling, spider-like presence, but both he and Frankie Huin-Wah as Mosca, need to find more variety in their pace - they're both very measured. They also need to be wary of movement where no movement is needed. It all got a bit fidgety in places.

Huin-Wah is a brave and clever bit of casting; making Mosca a woman adds a sexual frisson to the whole thing that direct Jeff Bone makes full use of and Huin-Wah is beautiful enough to carry it off easily. Mark Wakeman, Callum West and Roger Wallsgrove are great as Volpone's three victims and Lorraine Galliers, as the wife offered as sacrificial lamb to Volpone in order to secure his treasure, shines. Firmer direction and a closer attention to detail (barcodes on a 1930's bottle of wine?) would take this from 'good' to 'excellent'.

The News, 20th May 2011

Daily EchoAnne Waggott

Volpone at The Spring, Havant

Volpone, a hedonistic Venetian, and his servant, Mosca, orchestrate a hugely successful fraud: Volpone pretends to be dying, and then he and Mosca persuade his materialistic friends that each of them is to be Volpone's sole heir. To secure Volpone's preference, each friend showers him with extravagantly expensive gifts, expecting not only to soon get them back but also to inherit Volpone's fortune.

This dark, avaricious Jacobean comedy was here brought forward to the equally decadent 1930s whilst paying tribute to traditional Italian theatre styles of clowns and masques and maintaining the original language.

Jeff Bone's excellent direction ensured a strong ensemble production, lively representation of fable-animal characters, and, despite some opening night nerves, great visual humour and comic timing. Terry Smyth was a deliciously wicked Volpone, Mark Wakeman (Voltore) commanded the stage as the barrister, and Frankie Huin-Wah (Mosca) was wonderful, full of poise, expressive gestures and stage presence.

remotegoatJill Lawrie


Arguably one of Ben Jonson's best satires "Volpone" (alternatively titled 'The Fox') was first performed in London in 1606. A subtle morality comedy of greed and avarice with the central characters resembling animals.

Volpone (the fox) is a childless Venetian nobleman, bereft of natural heirs whilst dishonestly amassing quite a fortune. Encouraged by his parasitic side-kick Mosca (the fly) Volpone feigns sickness in the hope of attracting attention from several would be legacy hunters. The lawyer Voltore (the vulture), the elderly Corbaccio (the crow) and Corvino (the raven) are all lured to Volpone's sickbed bringing gifts on the premise that they will indeed inherit his fortune! Volpone succumbs to the beauty of Corvino's wife Celia but while she resists his advances Bonario comes to her rescue. However Mosca's ingenuity turns the tables on Bonario and he and Celia are taken to the senate. Volpone, pretending to be dead, names Mosca as his sole heir, but unaware that Mosca is just as devious and he claims Volpone's fortune! As the truth is revealed the greedy tricksters overreach themselves and are dealt their just desserts!

Director Jeff Bone resolved to set his production in the 1930's, a period of economic depression and hardship but also a culture of decadence, quite fitting for this particular play. Using an abridged version, dispensing with the English couple abroad subplot, he casts a female for the role of Mosca.

Terry Smyth (Volpone) takes on the mammoth and demanding character of the wily passionate liar. Mark Wakeman, a stalwart member of this theatre group, embraces the persona of the lawyer (Voltore) with great effect and gives a commanding performance. Mosca's malicious twinkle and mercenary inclinations are brilliantly depicted by young Frankie Huin-Wah who shines throughout. Lorraine Galliers (Celia) gives a memorable snapshot of this endearing minor character and contrasts sharply with that of her husband Corvino, admirably played by Callum West.

Though a little shaky at times this was a well costumed and entertaining Jacobean comedy. The set displayed an excellent collection of attractive props and a most imaginatively constructed wheelchair!

remotegoat, 20th May 2011

Production Photographs