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A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Custom/Practice & Graffiti Productions present


The Malcontent


by John Marston


Director: Rae McKen


Designer: Penelope Watson


Lighting Designer: Dan Jones


Composer: Edward Lewis


White Bear Theatre


22 Nov – 11 Dec 2011


John Marston's tale of Lords posing as scoundrels and villains posing as Lords is an energetic satire on the nature of the 17th Century Court. Marston was well known for pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable on the Renaissance stage and the handful of plays he wrote often exceeded the limits of public decency when it came to depictions of violence or sex on stage. Without doubt, The Malcontent shares the Shakespearean themes that were so popular during the times, and Marston employs the same techniques to advance the drama. Lust, plotting, double crossing, revenge and disguise are just a few of the classic methods Martson uses. However, The Malcontent is more rough and ready than any of Shakespeare's plays, for what it lacks in psychological insight it makes up for in physical action. In some ways The Malcontent resembles Measure for Measure, which coincidentally was written around the same time in 1603. Both plays feature a Duke who assumes a disguise in order to discover who is loyal and who is a villain.

The action takes place in Italy, distant enough to allow a certain degree of artistic licence to embellish the drama and close enough to appear relevant to the court of King James I. Pietro (Lorenzo Martelli), the Duke of Genoa has been informed by Malevole (Adam Howden), a cocksure, rough and crude rascal that his wife Aurelia, (Rebecca Loudon) has been unfaithful to him with Mendoza (Gershwyn Eustache). However when the portly Pietro confronts him, the deceptive Mendoza denies all accusations and manages to convince him that the real traitor is Ferneze (Boris Mitokov). Thus Mendoza agrees to kill Ferneze while plotting in the back of his mind to depose of the Duke himself and take his position. By employing Malevole to murder his way through the nobility, Mendoza aligns himself to become the Duke of Genoa. However, the cunning Malevole has his own agenda, and it soon becomes apparent that there is more to him than meets the eye.

McKen's production of The Malcontent is a testosterone fuelled power trip, infused with excessive energy and entertaining satire. The acting is of a high quality, but there are times when it feels a little over acted, perhaps intensified by the intimacy of the space. Howden portrays Malevole as an uncouth and crude urchin who scampers round the stage with riotous energy, playing the fool but always retaining the upper hand. Howden has an expressive face, snarling and grimacing and injecting the play with shots of nitrous, as he explodes onto the scene in his heavy black Steam punk overcoat. The dynamic between him and Eustache's Mendoza is one of the highlights of the performance, and we get a real feel of their characters relishing a Machiavellian darkness. They prod and poke one another in playful jest as they attempt to manipulate each other. Eustache is a strong actor who conveys the desperate ambition and sexual avarice of Mendoza. As the sweat drips down his brow, he exhibits the same intense energy as Malevole. However he may undermine his own stage presence by moving about so much.

McKen's direction suffers from its own enthusiasm, for most of the actors rock back and forth and move arbitrarily too often, which takes away from the intensity of their individual performances which, could be much more powerful if they remained rooted and moved more purposefully.

Martelli's Pietro is amusing as the rotund Duke, in his purple Vatican-like robes, accompanied by a waddling soundtrack that adds a nice touch to his character whenever he enters, while his fawning, lanky, servant Ferrardo (Matthew Gibbs) waits on him hand and foot. One of the most amusing characters is the foppish dandy Bilioso, played by Richard Kiess. Kiess is especially amusing as a snooty courtier, posing in his pinstripe trousers and cane, swearing allegiance to anyone who seizes power, solely to ensure his position in court. Shanaya Rafaat as Maquerelle, a lady in waiting to Aurelia, is especially strong, asserting her own  dominance in a play so dominated by testosterone. Rafaat's assertive voice and movement nicely counteracts Malevole's cocky, Jack the Lad escapades as she brings him down to earth and we see who is really boss.

The Malcontent is a play filled with intrigue and deceit, which McKen has made a good effort of transporting to the stage. At its core, the play is a satire, and McKen has concentrated on bringing out the hypocrisy of the nobility through a cast of dedicated, talented actors. Watson's set, with its wooden rails holding back the audience, creates the atmosphere of being in a court room and adds a sense that the whole play is almost like a trial where the judge is in disguise, while Lewis's courtly compositions add a baroque flavour to the antics of the villains and rogues on view. All in all, Marston's play is an enjoyable romp through the scheming and seduction of Jacobean high society, where murder is a practicality rather than a tragedy. We can merely look on with amusement as the paranoid Mendoza orders murders left, right and centre with almost farcical consequences.



 White Bear Theatre
138 Kennington Park Road
London SE11 4DJ
7.30 pm
Tickets £13-10
Box Office: 020 7793 9193

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