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A CurtainUp London Review
The White Devil
The Menier has rearranged the seating in its flexible space to form a traverse stage with doors either side. Heavyweight actors Aidan McArdle, Claire Price and Darrell D’Silva with their experience at the National and the Royal Shakespeare Company are the main villains Flamineo, Vittoria and the Duke Brachiano in this modern dress production.
The White Devil is based on a real life case in sixteenth century Italy where a woman first married the nephew of a Cardinal and who, after the murder of her husband and his duchess Isabella de Medici, married the Duke of Brachiano. When he wrote it in 1612 Webster would have seen plenty of plotting against the monarch of the day, whether the various Catholic plots aimed at Elizabeth to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne or the famous Gunpowder Plot of 1605 against Elizabeth’s heir and Mary’s son, James I.
In Webster’s version Count Ludovico (Dylan Charles) is exiled from Rome. Vittoria’s (Claire Price) brother Flamineo (Aidan McArdle) and Secretary to the duke, for his own career advancement, exploits the passion that the Duke of Brachiano (Darrell D’Silva) has for his sister. Together Flamineo and Brachiano plot to kill both Vittoria’s husband Camino (John Dougall) and Isabella (Claire Cox), Brachiano’s wife. They murder his wife by putting poison on the painting of her estranged husband’s lips. You see despite his casting her off, Isabella still loves him enough to nightly kiss his portrait. Vittoria is put on trial for the murder of her husband and although she is not directly implicated in murder, just for inciting it, she defends herself well but is sentenced by the Cardinal (Christopher Godwin) to a home for penitent whores. She escapes and she and Brachiano are married. Isabella’s brother Francisco (Louis Hilyer) disguised as a Moor and Ludovico and Gasparo disguised as Capuchin monks plot revenge. First they poison Brachiano with a helmet and mask full of poison. The maid Zanche (Karen Bryson) reveals the murders to her supposed countryman the Moor. Flamineo persuades Zanche and Vittoria to kill each other but instead they turn the pistols on him but he rises from the dead as the pistols were not loaded. Prompted by Isabella’s ghost Ludovico and Gasparo kill Flamineo and Vittoria.
Claire Price as Vittorio is as pale and tall and fair as her brother Flamineo is dark and slight and malevolent. McArdle’s Flamineo, probably the White Devil of the title although there are several candidates in Webster’s play, is underplayed which sits strangely in this Jacobean blood and thunder play.
It was almost as if the traverse playing area was too small for staging The White Devil. I was distracted by the entrances and exits and the direction not allowing anyone to stand still creating a noise of feet on the floor which I found distracting. The upside of this was that the sightlines were good and no-one was blocked for more than a few seconds. The plot is quite intricate and the staging and disguises add to the confusion. The second act though is considerably more satisfying than the first with its opulent wedding scene and of course the gory and realistic murders.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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