Stratford Upon Avon
THE WHITE DEVIL: John Webster
RSC, The Swan, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Runs: 2h 45m, on interval, to 29 11 14
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 16 08 14
Theatrical, visceral, intelligent production that gets to the guts of the play.
Webster is sexy. He’s also funny, violent and theatrical. Or rather his plays are. Maria Aberg gets this, she goes for it 100%. Aberg carries out a little nipping, tucking and reordering in her endeavours to unlock the WHITE DEVIL’S phenomenal potential – for the most part (though not entirely) this works well. With her team she creates a thrilling production. It’s not only true to Webster – I’m sure he’s chuckling in his grave – but it’s also one to delight us in the audience.
In her KING JOHN production Aberg changed the gender of two characters. Here she changes genders and one is particularly bold. Flamineo is one of the leads, but, more, he’s the epitome of the blokey bloke. The transgendering of Flamineo into Flaminio works better than you could ever believe and opens great insights.
In addition to the list above, Webster explores women’s psychology; he argues their right to be independent sexual beings. This theme is carried in great part by the Flamineo-Vittoria axis.
Laura Elphinstone’s epicene Flaminio carries the sexuality in an edgy way. It’s incredibly accomplished – not masculine nor feminine in any way we would readily recognise. This Flaminio is always herself . . . which is rather the point. Good or wicked is completely irrelevant. Multi-layered and ever ready to surprise us, as in the ‘compassion’ speech towards the end. This Flaminio may scheme – but what you see is what you get.
Her sister, Vittoria, then, complements her perfectly. Kirsty Bushell’s Vittoria is artfully chameleon-like. But only this because it’s where Society forces her. She is spirited, full of life – nice contrast irony she’s a murderer by proxy; her trial scene is fabulous, Bushell skilfully uses Webster’s humour to bring us on side – we are butter in her hands.
Aberg sets her production in late 1970s Italy. And the designs by Naomi Dawson, with their focus on clothes and appearance are apt, telling and delightful. The whole production is tough and sexy through and through, from the skinny-vested, darkly Italianate attendants to the throbbing House-like score (David Maclean and Tommy Grace) to the casual chic of the Cardinal’s outdoor garb.
A fine airing for this criminally too-infrequently performed masterpiece.
Joseph Arkley – Ludovico
Peter Bray – Marcello
Elspeth Brodie – Company
Kirsty Bushell – Vittoria
Colin Anthony Brown – Ambassador
Faye Castelow – Isabella
Keir Charles – Camillo
Liz Crowther – Cornelia
Laura Elphinstone – Flaminio
Mark Holgate – Antonelli
Lizzie Hopley – Hortensio
Joan Iyiola – Zanche
Tony Jayawardena – Ambassador
Michael Moreland – Company
Ken Nwosu – Carlo
David Rintoul – Cardinal Monticelso
Simon Scardifield – Francisco
Jay Simpson – Gasparo
David Sturzaker – Bracciano
Harvey Virdi – Matron
Director – Maria Aberg
Designer – Naomi Dawson
Lighting – James Farncombe
Sound – Tom Gibbons
Music – David Maclean and Tommy Grace
Video design – Nathan Parker
Movement – Ayse Tashkiran
Fights – Malcolm Ranson