THE DUCHESS OF MALFI
by John Webster.
Nottingham Playhouse. Wellington Circus NG1 5AL To 14 November 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat 7 Nov 2.30pm 12 Nov 1.30pm.
Audio-described 7 Nov 2.30pm 11 Nov.
BSL Signed 13 Nov.
Captioned 12 Nov 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 0115 941 9419.
Review: Alan Geary 3 November.
Strong stuff. This deserves to pack them in.
Nottingham Playhouse’s Conspiracy Season continues with The Duchess of Malfi. There’s conspiracy here, certainly, but a lot else besides, including one of the highest body counts in English drama. And there are shedloads of avarice, courtly intrigue and skulduggery, betrayal, illicit love, sex, infanticide and madness. It’s strong stuff.
Webster’s text is knife-like, earthy and utterly compelling, with jokey references to Shakespeare. There’s an eavesdropper behind an arras (Cariola, nicely played by Lisa Howard), and some lines bring The Merchant of Venice to mind. There are also meta-theatrical quips.
Beatriz Romilly, as the Duchess, gives a fine performance. At the start she’s girl-like but beautiful and seductive; at the end, shorn of finery and power, she still dominates the stage. The erotic charge between her and her low-born lover Antonio (Jamie Satterthwaite) is palpable; their proposal scene is a highlight of the evening.
In deliberate contrast, we get the base carnality of the goings-on in front of a huge crucifix with the lecherous Cardinal (Patrick Brennan), all in red, indulging his lust for his mistress Julia (Rebecca Sarker), also in red.
Chris Jared handles Ferdinand’s hysteria and eventual descent into madness splendidly. And there’s a moment when he suddenly appears in a mirror that’s honest-to-goodness frightening. Bosola, bulky, tough and rough – and sympathetic – is done in a striking performance by Matthew Wait.
The set, often sumptuous and always adaptable, is a visual delight. This and some terrific sound and music come together beautifully early in the play when the Duchess enters through a high, palatial doorway. It’s a breath-taking moment.
All is done in vaguely fifties costume, just right for a piece in which the courtiers, mostly yes-men in suits, are coming and going. That said, outfits for the episode where the inmates of a madhouse are let loose don’t work. With their white, bunny-rabbit suits they look like first-year students in Nottingham city centre on a Saturday night. You almost expect them to have tails pinned to their behinds.
Directed by Fiona Buffini, this is the best production at the Playhouse this year. It deserves to pack them in.
Delio: Peter Bray.
The Cardinal: Patrick Brennan.
Roderigo: Steve Conlin.
Castruccio: Jim Findley.
Cariola: Lisa Howard.
Ferdinand: Simon Haines.
Duchess of Malfi: Beatriz Romilly.
Julia: Rebecca Sarker.
Antonio: Jamie Satterthwaite.
Bosola: Matthew Wait.
Silvio/Doctor: Christopher Wollaton.
Children: Óran McGuire, Charlotte Wright, Felix Findley, Molly Brewer.
Director: Fiona Buffini.
Designer: Neil Murray.
Lighting: Mark Jonathan.
Sound/Composer: Jon Nicholls.
Fight director: Philip D’Orléans.