First Night Review: Duchess of Malfi

first_imgThe first half is excellent. Scene changes are fast and maintain dramatic momentum. Titas Halder’s direction displays a keen sense for blocking that never leaves the large stage of the Playhouse feeling too empty and the musical effects are well chosen. Mention must also be made of the Duchess herself. Sian Robins-Grace is stunning. She produces an emotional range unmatched by anyone else on stage. And her carriage commands our attention even when Webster has nothing for her to say. Owen Findlay also bears note as the strongest male actor in the cast for his charming and yet complex Bosola. The Dutchess of Malfi is truly a study in disintegration. By the play’s end we have witnessed no less than seven gruesome murders through means as fantastical as a poisoned Bible, and the play’s central sibling trio (the Duchess and her two brothers) are finished off in an odd mix of madness, maniacal scheming, and revenge. It is this tremendous sense of decay that seems best to encapsulate the present production. It starts strong and ends farcically. In short, the play was perhaps forty-five minutes too long. Some more insightful cuts and a more polished second half would not so disappointingly have detracted from the production’s many commendable attributes. However, these two performances hid faults that began to increasingly detract from the production as it proceeded. Brian McMahon’s Ferdinand is abysmal. Always agitated, he blunders through many of the most sensuous lines in the play and does little to convey the romantic interest in his twin sister (the Duchess) that fuels his jealous and yet self-destructive rage against her. Unfortunately, his final lunacy was hardly shocking, since the only contrast in his delivery throughout the play was one of volume rather than tone, cadence, or manner. By Jay Alexander Hilton Butler This deficiency was not particularly noticeable in the first half because the play worked so well as a whole. However, such faults became increasingly apparent after the intermission with the breakdown of its other positive elements. Scene changes were slower, music was not used as skilfully, and the play dragged. It seemed almost as though there had not been as much time devoted to rehearsing the latter half since many of the interactions between characters were unnecessarily awkward. The dramatic climax was certainly the execution of the Duchess (a tremendously gripping scene) and yet the play carried on for quite some time afterward with little character development apart from Ferdinand’s transformation into a werewolf. This is largely, of course, a fault of the play as Webster’s crude love of needless gore is aired fully. Yet, a bolder director might well have simply ended the play immediately after the Duchess’ death or played the final scenes with more subtlety. Instead, what followed was something of a comic circus with bodies splayed across the stage. After Bosola stabbed the scheming Cardinal, for instance, the latter fell awkwardly at the top of a staircase and was forced thereafter to prop himself up (so as not to fall down the stairs entirely) while chiming in occasional lines.last_img

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