Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

The Duchess of Malfi

Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies

The Duchess of Malfi

Article excerpt

The Duchess of Malfiby John Webster, presented by Eyestrings Theatre at the Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury (touring), 9th October 2013.

Directed by Owen Horsley. Designed by Simon Anthony Wells. Sound design by Helen Atkinson. Lighting Design by Daniel Street. With Beatrice Walker (the Duchess), Charlotte Powell (Cariola and Julia), Vincent Enderby (Ferdinand), Nicholas Figgis (the Cardinal), Phil Cairns (Bosola), Owen Young (Antonio), and Ashraf Ejjbair (Delio).

Renaissance dramatists are not our contemporaries, but often the alchemy of theatre can make them seem astonishingly fresh and modern. Eyestrings Theatre gave just such life to The Duchess of Malfi, using clear and precise verse-speaking (conversational and contemporary without sacrificing poetical effect), together with sharp direction to make this two hour production, with no interval, a tense thriller, with the rapidity and fluidity of a dream.

The cast were in place as the audience entered, seated in an X pattern, each holding a cocktail glass, under bare lightbulbs on cables. As the production began they took on exaggeratedly cheerful rictus grins, looking out to the audience as if to best friends, waving, pointing, gurning with pleasure. Bosola stood centre stage dressed as a waiter with a tray of drinks, underlining his social inferiority and enforced subservience as he argued with the Duchess's brothers. The manically happy party guests were later to make a reappearance as the madmen who were brought in to torment, and in this production help to execute, the Duchess and Cariola.

The production was emotionally naturalistic, with impressively heartfelt and passionate performances, particularly from Beatrice Walker as the self-assured Duchess, and from an increasingly tormented Philip Cairns as Bosola, her assassin. Despite this, the setting and stage business were non-naturalistic, hallucinatory and dreamlike. An old-fashioned radio microphone on a stand made repeated appearances, first at centre stage where, after a public speech by the Cardinal, the Duchess and her brothers mimed their public mutual affection in slow motion hugs and touches while Antonio, her steward and husband-to-be, described the three. …

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