Who do you want to see play...Iago
Review: Cuckoo at the Unicorn Theatre

Review: Gemma Arterton is the Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Gemma Arterton, Duchess of Malfi, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

First trip to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse which Poly described perfectly as "like being in a doll's house" to which I would add "and about as comfortable" but I won't dwell on that here.

I'm not sure whether she was also thinking of the theatre's likeness when she later described Gemma Arterton's Duchess of Malfi as like a porcelain doll - Poly is very clever so she probably was and it is an entirely appropriate description on both accounts.

In this traditional production of John Webster's play of jealousy and revenge Arterton is a beautiful and sweet Duchess, whose pursuit of happiness with the one she loves is almost innocently blind, so much so that the audience couldn't help but gasp when she unwittingly reveals her husband's identity to her brother's spy.

Against such a Duchess Alex Waldmann makes a perfect Antonio, he too being so sweet and un calculating. It also creates a beautiful white back drop against which the Duchess' two evil brothers can play the blackest of baddies.

Neither wants their newly widowed sister to re-marry - for Ferdinand (David Dawson), her twin, there is something not quite brotherly in his behaviour towards her. Dawson walks the line between a comedy villain and villain that is truly chilling and certainly makes you take notice when he is on stage. Sitting close to the front I was on the receiving end of his lines a couple of times and when he fixes you with his stare it almost makes you shudder.

I've seen edgier, faster-paced productions of the Duchess of Malfi which I've preferred (this is a songs-and-all, three-hour production) but for a Jacobean style performance they certainly make the most within the confines of the space and costumes.

Candles provided the light and were used to great atmospheric effect, even if I did constantly worry about costumes catching on fire. The fourth wall was naturally broken and the entire theatre inside and out utilised.

It's a good opener for The Globe's little sister with a great cast and great performances but like its bigger, outdoorsy brother next door there are many good reasons why theatres aren't designed like this any more and discomfort did somewhat temper the enjoyment.

The Duchess of Malfi runs until February 16.


The ever wonderful David Dawson was in the Secret Diary of a Call Girl which starred Billie Piper who is soon to be seen on TV with Mr W in Foxtrot.