Wednesday, 5 February 2014

THE DUCHESS OF MALFI


Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe
4 February, 2014

Director: Dominic Dromgoole
Talent: Gemma Arterton

Present: NM, RP, WW, Molly Line



A new theatre.  I thought it smelled new, but actually what I could smell - pointed out to me by my niece - was beeswax burning in the very many candles that were the chief source of illumination for this production. It is a lovely, intimate theatre, the stage thrusting into the audience (which numbers around 300) but which requires most of the action to take part centre stage because otherwise those in the upper gallery lose sight of events.

In truth this was a competent, rather pedestrian go at a horrible, brilliant play, enlivened chiefly by the glowing presence of Gemma Arterton, who as well as being transfixingly beautiful is also a powerful actor.  Hers is not an easy role, requiring feistiness, piety, sweetness and cunning, but Arterton is fully up to it and the Duchess's death is a grievous blow to the production. I heard every word she said.

Which I'm afraid could not be said of Sean Gilder's Bosola, who spoke his lines too quickly and with little thought for Webster's pentameters, swallowing great chunks of the playwright's misanthropy ("Though we are eaten up with lice and worms / And though continually we bear about us / A rotten and dead body, we delight / To hide it in rich tissue" - from a scene cut, but representative.)

Bosola is the principal protagonist of the play, and the failure both of the performance and the production to recognize this is my chief grouse.

Jacobeans were made of sterner stuff than we are, because three hours on the benches of the Wanamaker was enough for my buttocks, legs and back. Perhaps this is why I clapped so energetically at the end, though I prefer to think that it was in appreciation of Gemma Arterton's performance.

Many thanks to Brendan O'Hea, who gave us a tour backstage afterwards.  So little room! And the view into the groundling pit from the stage was positively vertiginous.

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