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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE DUCHESS OF MALFI
at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

DESTROYED BY REVENGE
By ROBERT GORE-LANGTON


The brand new Sam Wanamaker theatre – brick outside, oak inside – nestles inside the Globe Theatre’s modern foyer. It is a lovely building – a committee of scholars’ idea of what an indoor Jacobean playhouse might have looked and felt like, and far more architecturally detailed than the similar Swan Theatre in Stratford. Its horseshoe auditorium sits inside an oak-paneled auditorium (capacity 340) is lit by 70-odd candles from chandeliers, lowerable by rope, and from sconces on the wooden pillars holding up the gallery.
 
The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster’s 400-year-old play, which stars former Bond girl Gemma Arterton in the title role, is a brilliant opening show. It’s perfectly suited to the chiaroscuro effect of the candlelight on the actors’ faces and, more importantly, to Webster’s magnificent, macabre, torch-lit verse with its moments of Vincent Price-like melodrama – “Their life, a general mist of error/Their death, a hideous storm of terror.” 
 
The great thing about this production, absorbingly directed by Dominic Dromgoole, is you would want to see it anywhere. Arterton is delightfully innocent and thus all the more horribly persecuted by her brothers. David Dawson is terrific as her lank-haired, psychotic twin Ferdinand, whose incestuous passion is the cause of all the trouble. He succumbs to a nasty bout of werewolf-ism or lycanthropy. James Garnon makes for a suavely murderous cardinal, and Sean Gilder is a gruff, blunt Bosola, the hitman who himself dies in a Tarantino dagger orgy. Denise Gough, too, is vividly memorable as the loyal, and inevitably bumped off, lady’s maid. 
 
My one complaint as a customer is that from the side tiers, however much you crane your neck, you cannot see the painted ceiling or the musicians in the minstrel’s gallery who strum Claire van Kampen’s period music. But the Sam Wanamaker is a triumph, a small but exceptionally pretty addition to the London theatre scene.

 


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