Pell Mell Theatre presents The Duchess of Malfi:
I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Duchess of Malfi since Natalie York, the Director of Pell Mell Theatre Company told me it was the next planned production. I really enjoyed last year’s production of The Rover after being intrigued by the video. I have to admit to feeling just a little inadequate as a theatre reviewer, I’m used to publishing Natalie’s own very insightful pieces and so I was quite apprehensive about being asked to review this production.
An almost bare set with black and white painted backdrop, repetitive 70s electro-synth music and masked actors who dress the Duchess (Lucy Laing) in a dramatic and somewhat erotic black widow’s outfit and heels set the mood for Natalie production of The Duchess of Malfi.
Lucy’s Duchess is flirtatious and playful but never weak. She leads the clearly besotted Antonio (Callum Cameron), persuading him that their secret union will eventually be accepted. He in turn is charming and doting and has to be constantly encourage by the Duchess and Cariola her servant (Marie Fortune).
Tom Blyth as Ferdinand makes a convincingly foppish brother, obsessively adoring and attempting to control his sister. Matthew Leigh as the sinister Cardinal represents all that is corrupt in the Church. The pair connive to ensure the Duchess does not remarry but, when Bosola (Stephen MacNeice) is employed to spy on her and uncovers not just a secret marriage but a child, each brother is equally furious.
Ferdinand’s anger pushes him into madness, the Cardinal continues to plot and enlists the by now reluctant Bosola to torment and then murder the Duchess and her child.
I was gripped. The acting here was genuinely convincing and the casting immaculate. The Duchess, statuesque and confident at the start becomes increasingly vulnerable and tender, though she never loses her composure. Ferdinand, initially just a little foolish ultimately becomes a jabbering wreck and Bosola manages to marry the role of henchman and spy with a growing sensitivity, reluctance and regret.
The Duchess of Malfi was the first production I saw at Oakham. Coming from an all girls grammar school to Oakham was something of a ground breaking experience for me. I’d been used to a largely academic school life with very limited creative activities. I landed in a mixed boarding school with its own theatre, orchestras, choirs and a strong heritage of creative productions. I seem to remember that the school production of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi starred one of my contemporaries, Annabel Apsian, in the title role. Certainly I remember her quoting from the play. But I’m sad to say that is all I remember of the production there.
Somehow I have a feeling I’ll remember this production for a lot longer.
Performances run to Saturday 23rd August (excluding Sundays and Mondays), with tickets at £12.50 (£10.50 concessions).
Tickets can be booked via www.camdenfringe.com
New Diorama Theatre
15 Triton Street,
London NW1 3BF