ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London Review
The Duchess of Malfi
Eve Best is called upon to portray a woman later in great pain and suffering but also the flirtatious wife and employer of her steward Antonio (Tom Bateman) living on borrowed time. It is Jamie Lloyd’s lavish production which evokes the sullied hypocrisy of the Italian noblemen and clergy and the contextual powerlessness of women.
Soutra Gilmour’s majestic balconied staircased set is embellished with wood carving and ironwork, lit low with candelabra held by the mysteriously hooded figures in masks. This serves to underline the sinister, deceptive nature of the court and all who serve there. Ben and Max Ringham have created a richly Baroque score to accompany the scenes. The court figures move in a slow and stylised, swaying step, one forward, one back, conveying a formality, a protocol of courtly behaviour, a cover for the corruption beneath the surface. The duchess’s entrance sees her sweeping in smoothly as if she is on castors under the flowing skirt. The language too reflects the drama of the era, rich, lavish, extravagantly lustful. When Bosola the spy (Mark Bonnar) first tells us of his resentment at his place in society his words seem to drip venom all delivered with his Scots Glaswegian accent which, together with his beard and hair swept back, makes him look and sound uncannily like the maverick left wing politician George Galloway.
The night I saw The Duchess in the scene where she drags her steward (her husband by a secret marriage )into a sexual romp in her bed, the bed collapsed at one corner so that scene may have been more giggly than originally intended, but no matter. The frivolity tied in with the duchess’s obvious delight at being with her heart’s desire. serves as good contrast with what follows as her evil brothers threaten her. Maybe the bed should collapse every night?
Eve Best gives a moving performance as the ill treated duchess. However, with the formality of society underlined by this production, we are aware exactly how naive the duchess appears to be in thinking that a marriage to her servant Antonio would ever be acceptable to her ambitious brothers. Ironically the steward, Antonio has better manners and more gentility than anyone else in the court. Finbar Lynch’s chilling Cardinal offends with his lack of chastity and the terrible moment when he murders his mistress Julia (Iris Roberts) by making her swear on a poisoned bible. Harry Lloyd seems miscast as the duchess’s brother Ferdinand with a late dawning realisation of the incestuous feeling he has for his sister in the bedroom scene, again played that night on the broken bed.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.