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Review: Pell Mell's Duchess of Malfi at the New Diorama Theatre


Lucy Laing as the Duchess, Tom Blyth as Ferdinand and Stephen MacNeice as Bosola

Webster's dark tragedy of brotherly lust and revenge is a favourite of mine. It's got some great characters - the good, the flawed and the out and out bad. It has love, duplicity, madness and murder. Plenty to entertain.


Pell Mell's production is simply staged with a series of curtains dividing the stage at appropriate points and the very bare minimum of props - some cushions and throws on the floor for a bed chamber and a pole with a couple of chains for a prison. Nothing to distract you from the story of the young widowed Duchess of Malfi (Lucy Laing) who defies her brothers request not to marry by attaching herself to her steward Antonio (Callum Cameron) and having a child with him.

The Duchess is an interesting character. She's done her duty in the past and wants to use her new found freedom to marry whom she chooses but falls foul of the male-dominated world and in particular her jealous and obsessive twin Ferdinand (Tom Blyth).

Laing's Duchess is a little too capricious and lacking in charm to fully empathise with her situation. She was probably at her best in the bedchamber scene with Antonio where there was a nice relaxed playfulness between husband and wife which did make what follows more difficult to bear, in a good way.

Blyth's Ferdinand is the maddest I've seen - he puts in a committed performance from the outset but this serves to make him more comical than a sinister and scary villain. That is reserved for Stephen MacNeice who plays Bosola, a character who has little scruples about what he'll do for money. MacNeice takes a more subtle approach and as such feels the more viperous.

The final act of the play is the most problematic being preceded by a particularly brutal and harrowing events. It can seem a bit languid and feel like an unnecessary long set up for Webster's gruesome finale if not appropriately paced and here that was the case. A stuffy theatre didn't help.

Pell Mell's Duchess of Malfi occasionally flies with the passion, thrills and drama you expect from Webster's play but at others feels either over-baked or underwhelming. It runs at the New Diorama Theatre until 23 August.