Saturday 23 March 2024

The Duchess of Malfi - Review

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London


Written by John Webster
Directed by Rachel Bagshaw

Francesca Mills

John Webster’s classic revenge tale is well told in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Francesca Mills plays the titular widowed Duchess whose death is sought by her patrician brothers following her live affair and subsequent secret marriage to aristocrat Antonio, with whom she has borne three children.

Mills puts in a fine performance with a credible passion and desire for Olivier Huband’s Antonio. The villains of the piece are Jamie Ballard and Oliver Johnstone as the brothers, together with Arthur Hughes’ Bosola, the story’s duplicitous lynchpin, engineering much of the murderous mayhem before himself succumbing to fatal pangs of guilt.

Director Rachel Bagshaw plays a little fast and loose with the text, but mercifully her re-writes are sparse and for those school parties attending there is enough meat in the production for them to context Webster’s prose. To her credit, Bagshaw places much emphasis on the misogyny of the play which sits even more appropriately in the #MeToo era.

The music is well played and provides a sound backdrop to the narrative, while the entertaining fight choreography from R C Annie Ltd offers the violent thrills and spills that this famous blood and bodice-ripping yarn demands.

At nigh-on 3 hours there are moments when the pace flags, but for a decent delivery of Restoration Tragedy, The Duchess Of Malfi hits the spot.

Runs until 14th April
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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