By Charlie Knights
I grew up on Shakespeare, the dramas and comedies of that period. My parents bought me my first complete works when I was eight, and I instantly fell in love with the Jacobian heavy drama style. Duchess of Malfi is another production from that period, except that it was written in 1612 by playwright John Webster. Duchess is a macabre, tragic play on the intrigues of an Italian aristocrat and her pursuit of love. When a production contains intrigue, murder, love, incest, and even lycanthropy, what more can you really ask for?
The production starts with the widowed Duchess (Poppy Parker) marrying below her station, and slowly devolves as her two brothers Ferdinand (James Cole-Ezen) and the Cardinal (Alec Cook) are adamant she not marry again, and exact their revenge, eventually destroying themselves in the process.
The set was spectacular, very nice use of window frames lit from behind, artfully used in particular scenes to provide silhouettes of characters waiting on the wings.
Poppy Parker’s portrayal of the Duchess of Malfi was intense. Managing to be sarcastic and funny at the beginning, getting a few good laughs out of the audience. Then as we moved to the climactic scene of her death in a bathtub it was gripping and heart-wrenching. The brothers as well provided a very dark, very harsh counterpart in the first half to the love story. Ferdinand was the particular highlight I would say, showing real character development over the course of the story, and becoming a character who made the audience flinch when he entered a fit of rage.
I’m always a sucker for a good costume as well, with the play being filled with mostly silvers and blacks, the only splash of colour being the Cardinal’s red tie, which tied in incredibly well with the minimal back drop and stark contrasts within the play itself.
There are always risks with going to see a production on opening night, and unfortunately we saw that with the cast. Line slip-ups were more common than I have seen in an Act One production, which was a real shame. However it was a two and a half hour Jacobian English slog with an incredible amount of dialogue so I cannot fault them. It was a bit difficult to connect with at times as well- I couldn’t quite put my finger on why but that might just have been with the content of the play.
On that note, congratulations to the cast for their fundraising efforts, as the cast managed to raise £205.47 for Cardiff Women’s Aid during their run. An important cause, and inspirational to see that kind of extra thinking by the cast and crew.