by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.
Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 26 November 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 November.
Central duo stand out in fast-moving revival.
If Shakespeare is playwriting’s star, illuminating all humanity (Lear, the Macbeths, Othello), Thomas Middleton is the age’s leading non-star performer, whose work reaches to the core of individual characters.
Middleton’s plays – mostly comedies, desperately awaiting revival, but also two tragedies – focus on the individual situation. There’s no Hamlet or Falstaff, but his psychological depth stands out among Renaissance drama.
And few equalled the poetic force of his De Flores dismissing an offered payment for murder from the woman he desires and intends to possess: “Twill hardly buy a capcase for one’s conscience, though,” or the self-realisation of Beatrice-Joanna’s dying words to her father, “I am that of your blood was taken from you for your better health.”
In his abridged production (gone is the secondary plot by William Rowley, and some lines from the main story) director Michael Oakley brings events into a modern world where De Flores is a security guard, watching a bank of CCTV screens around Vermandero’s home.
It’s here Beatrice-Joanna uses the scarred De Flores to kill the fiancée she doesn’t want, then finds she’s both indebted and inexplicably attracted to the formerly servile, now commanding De Flores (“up to the chin in heaven” when she first favours him).
The passion between these two, David Caves lurking then commanding the space, Fiona Hampton moving from youthful confidence in her passionate likes and distaste to obsessive desire, mounts inevitably till its mutually destructive climax, locked together in a closet – their own closed-off world – by the forces of revenge.
This obsessive secret relationship, set against the changing images on the security monitors, and De Flores’ growing confidence, are the mainstay of an evening where cuts in the script speed events but give other characters little chance to develop. It doesn’t help to play the murder victim as so silly: no wonder Beatrice-Joanna wants rid of him. And while performances pull the verse towards everyday speech the shape of the lines is often lost.
But Oakley’s treatment of the central duo and designer Fontini Dimou’s functional, subdued-colour modern environment find the essential pulse of this Middleton masterpiece.
De Flores: David Caves.
Alsemero: Rob Heaps.
Beatrice-Joanna: Fiona Hampton.
Diaphanta: Sophie Cosson.
Vermandero: Jonathan Benda.
Alonzo de Piracquo/Tomazo de Piracquo: James Northcote.
Director: Michael Oakley.
Designer: Fotini Dimou.
Lighting: George Bishop.
Sound/Composer: Jamie Flockton.
Video: Cate Blanchard.
Fight director: Rob Leonard.
Associate director: Robyn Winfield-Smith.