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Duchess of Malfi @ New Diorama Theatre

| Theatre | 14/08/2014

Marie Fortune and Lucy Laing photographed by Venus Raven
Marie Fortune and Lucy Laing photographed by Venus Raven

This is a totally engrossing production of Webster’s phenomenal tragedy. All actors are word perfect but more than this this allows the beauty of the language to shine, infused as it is with pathos; sometimes humorous, often ironic, to “perceive the shape of loveliness more perfectly in woe than in joyfulness…” So beautiful that I want to read the whole play through again.

Courtiers Callum Cameron and Patrick Lenney carry off their tittle-tattle splendidly and it makes for great contrast with the aristocracy, as with the premise of the play. There’s further juxtaposition of the stark setting and contemporary soundtrack (squelched chorales mashed up with scratchy vinyl and 1980s synth pop replete with Steve Strange Venetian masks) with the most elegant of costuming by Giulia Scrimieri appearing simultaneously suited and unsuited to period. Thus accords a timeless-ness to proceedings affected by the influence, as director Natalie York acknowledges, of Gothic horrors such as Nosferatu and Dr Caligari. With an inspired set by Jenny Gamble, York sought “to create our own world” that is indeed extreme, surreal and scary. Against which, layers of intrigue are ripped away and tension builds.

Callum Cameron and Patrick Lenney photographed by Venus Raven

Ferdinand is portrayed by Tom Blyth with aspects of evenness to start although a flinty two-hander with Bosola (another great performance from Stephen MacNeice) ignites telling sparks. Blyth considers that “it was much more interesting to play him difficult and troubled to begin,” as indicative of impending malaise. It’s an evident agitation that masks his underlying anger; eventually and fatefully revealed via seething rage. Blyth is superb and makes the show. Lucy Laing’s Duchess also keeps her reserve to begin, with an eminent control of action and dialogue. The entire cast are highly capable and responsive. Antonio in the form of Callum Cameron does indeed makes “a fine courtier” displaying an air of calm in a consistently charismatic performance. The Cardinal and Julia (Matthew Leigh and Katerina Elliott) come into their own in the second half: their pairing sparkling with both bright and dark lights.

The exquisite direction of Natalie York employs full use of the space, coupled with the exemplary lighting of Edmund Sutton. York demonstrates a keen eye for detail, never breaking the illusion, in a play where every illusion is shattered. If you see any fringe theatre this year, this is it. A truncated version of the original, though not a hack-job, and successfully and sensitively executed. It remains a long play, and heavy going, like taking a sledgehammer to your mind, and mind-blowing too. Associate Lynn Robson references the play’s contemporary concerns with corruption at court, and a “virulent anti-Catholic prejudice – and debate about the role of women…” Goes without saying how similar issues, 400 years later, concerning faith and gender, abuse and barbarism, remain shockingly relevant. Lucy Laing agrees: “things that we see and understand today are defined in the play…” And not to mention the pervading theme of melancholia treated as it was then as a bodily condition, and disconnected with the individual state of mind as so clearly exposed by Webster.


Congrats to all of the cast and crew for a stupendous show. Highly recommended.

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