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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

Galleon Theatre Company presents

The Duchess of Malfi

 

 

by John Webster

Directed by Bruce Jamieson

Produced by Alice de Sousa

 

Greenwich Playhouse

 

21 February - 18 March 2012

 

 

 

On the verge of being forced from their home of twenty years to make way for gratuitous commercial Olympic opportunity, the Galleon Theatre company have chosen Webster's classic violent revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi as the piece with which they will tread the well worn boards for the last time. Producer Alice de Sousa fills the title role with some relish and Director Bruce Jamieson plays the part of the depraved Cardinal, her brother, with equivalent enthusiasm.

The funeral of the Duchess' first husband serves to introduce the characters one by one and make clear that, visually, the play has been drastically modernised. The Duchess wears fitted trousers and a leather jacket, with only a demure fascinator nodding to the grandeur of costumes in more traditional productions. Her brothers, the Cardinal and the frantic Ferdinand (Robin Holden), are also toughened up with a splash of leather and some stick-on tattoos, while the Cardinal's Virgin Mary belt buckle initiates the outwardly blasphemous trend which consistently elicits more giggles than gasps from the audience.

The crux of the matter is presented quite promptly -  the Duchess' brothers are adamant that she will not marry again, for a variety of reasons, their collective greed and Ferdinand's incestuous obsession with her presented as foremost among them. In haste she remarries her steward, rock-steady Antonio (Darren Stamford), in a secret ceremony conducted by her mistress Cariola (Emma Grace Arends). Arends who, from here on is notable for embracing her role completely, whether fending off the violent sexual advances of one third of the male company or instigating rare moments of frivolity for the Duchess.

The downward spiral of misery is thus set in motion, and the events which follow are a convoluted assortment of deceit, sex, violence and blunders. Much is made of the Cardinal's transgressions with his mistress Julia (Tanya Windsor), who is in turn married to the most quintessential cuckold imaginable, Castruchio (Barry Clarke). Through all the shifts in focus and concurrent blasts of a strange and disconcerting horn which punctuate them, Bosola (Damian Quinn) is a constant source of drama and intrigue. Comically dismal and expertly deceitful, Bosola is, perhaps unwittingly, the star of this production with Quinn adeptly portraying his opportunist tendencies alongside his burgeoning remorse for the murders he commits.

Multipurpose Cardinal's men (Martin Foreman, Phil Gerrard and Alex Reece) also serve as prison guards and executioners, receiving perhaps their strangest incarnation as looming leather-aproned, wellington-clad assistants to Ferdinand's dubious doctor when he begins his sporadically convincing descent into madness. Costumes designed by Natasha Piper, are as plentiful as they are varied and an impressive feat, from Julia's erotic Nun ensemble to Cariola's expertly decorous and prim attire throughout. Excusing a fog-horn fiasco, the music is well chosen and suitably melodramatic at key moments, such as the otherwise slightly dubious Duchess' haunting scene.

The Duchess of Malfi is an ambitious undertaking and it is fitting that the Galleon Theatre Company has pulled out the stops for a memorable final production at the Greenwich Playhouse. The depth of feeling written into the fabric of the lead roles by Spencer is somewhat diluted in the case of all but Bosola, and the focus is firmly placed on shock and violence, culminating in numerous interesting fight scenes directed by Ian McCracken. Overall, the production makes for an entertaining evening.

 

 

Editor's Note: We at EXTRA! EXTRA! are very sorry to see Greenwich Playhouse, home of many a fine production over the past 20 years, go, in the name of greed! We wish Galleon Theatre Company all the best for the future in their, hopefully, soon to be found new home, where they're sure to be mounting similarly fine productions.

 

 

Box Office: 0208 858 9256

www.galleontheatre.co.uk
Greenwich Playhouse
Station Forecourt, 189 Greenwich High Road, London SE10 8JA
Tickets: £13, £10 (concs)
 

 

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