15 posts categorized "Jacobean drama" Feed

The bloody Duchess of Malfi at the Old Vic

Carousel-image1If Jacobean dramatist John Webster had been writing today he'd probably be penning some violent and bloody gang related HBO drama or episodes of Spooks, killing off key characters when you least expect it. It is, after all, a brave move knocking off your heroine 40 minutes before the end of the play but an act that sets in motion the sort of bloody carnage so loved by early 17th century writers.

Webster's Duchess of Malfi is a tale of two evil brothers who bully their young, widowed sister, banning her from remarrying and then pursuing her relentlessly when they discover she has not only taken a husband but one of lowly status.

This being classic Jacobean tragedy there are undertones of incestuous feelings and murder most foul but it is an honour killing that is at the heart of the Machiavellian and brutal plotting that forms the central storyline.

The Old Vic production, directed by Jamie Lloyd, is beautifully staged in traditional dress against a backdrop of stairs and landings with intricate carvings, lit so as to throw carefully sculpted shadows and shafts of light. 

And the cast do a wonderful job with Webster's rich and metaphor heavy text. I could listen to Mark Bonnar's beautifully Scottish-lilted soliloquies as Bosola for hours, even if he is spitting bile and loathing against mankind most of the time. 

Tom Bateman who is building an impressive CV having played Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham's last year while still at drama school, takes on the more meaty role of the Duchess's good-souled husband Antonio. And it is always a joy to see Harry Lloyd on stage - here channeling a little of his Game of Thrones character Viserys Tagaryen, as the jealous and venomous brother who has an eye for his sister. He does a very convincing almost bratish baddy.

It was my first time seeing theatre darling Eve Best and she didn't disappoint as the strong-willed tragic heroine.

This was a late preview performance and from what @oughttobeclowns has said the running time has tightened up considerably as this performance clocked in at 2 hours and 40 including interval rather than the 3 hours 20 advertised. It still sags a little in the middle of the second half but quickly picks up pace as the carnage begins - the Duchess's demise is particularly drawn out and distressing.

Jacobean tragedy done bloody well - the Old Vic has finally found the stage blood supplies - I'm going to give it four stars.

The Duchess of Malfi runs at the Old Vic until June 9


Was worried that I might have to call upon the Kevin Spacey fall-back but fortunately found a direct link, Finbar Lynch who plays the Cardinal has Richard II listed in his TV credits in which Mr W takes the title role of course (due to be aired in July according to recent reports).


Tis Pity She's a Whore - channelling Tracey Emin's My Bed

Tis_Pity-67Tracey Emin’s My Bed must surely be the inspiration for the setting of Cheek By Jowl’s Tis Pity She's a Whore?

The company, which I’m rapidly growing quite fond of, sets John Ford’s Jacobean drama in the contemporary bedroom of tragic teenage heroine Annabella (Lydia Wilson). Her red-sheeted bed takes centre stage in front of wall bedecked with posters many with Vampire or gothic themes including those for TV series True Blood and The Vampire Diaries. 

It seems a perfect canvas against which to tell a tale of incest, seduction and passion which results in - this being Jacobean drama after all - poisoning, tongue-ripping and heart-gouging.

Annabella has many suitors but, on his return to the family home her brother Giovanni (the gorgeous Jack Gordon) forgoing the advice of his priest, declares his love for his sister.  The declaration is reciprocated and their relationship quickly consummated.

Giovanni urges Annabella to marry in order to better disguise their relationship and when they discover she is pregnant the matter becomes more pressing. Soranzo her chief suitor is chosen.

Meanwhile recently widowed Hippolita (Suzanne Burden) plots with Vasques (Laurence Spellman) to have Soranzo (Jack Hawkins) poisoned in revenge for the part she believed he play in her husband’s death. 

The aforementioned bed becomes the location not only for acts of passion and seduction but also horrific violence as well as a stage for dances, a refuge and gathering spot to watch a fight. The room's en suite doubles as sinister punishment and torture chamber sometimes what goes on unseen is all the more horrific as it is left to the imagination. 

Continue reading "Tis Pity She's a Whore - channelling Tracey Emin's My Bed" »

Joe Hill-Gibbins' The Changeling - upstaged by jelly and trifle

G_1_jpg_510x340_crop_upscale_q85I like modern takes on old plays or innovative and different staging. It can throw a new perspective on familiar texts or access to historic pieces you don't always get in traditional staging. What I don't like is when a production feels like it is different for the sake of it or that someone has come up with good idea and then milked it to the point of ridiculousness.

The Changeling is a play I studied at Uni or at least the underlined quotes and notes in the margin of my dog-eared copy of five Middleton plays imply I studied it but none of the story or quotes came flooding back as I watched last night so I was essentially seeing it as new.

It's good Jacobean fare in that there is love, lust, violence and murder. Joanna (Jessica Raine) is lusted after by De Flores (Daniel Cerqueira) her father's ugly servant whom she abhors. Joanna is set to marry Alonzo (Duncan Wisbey) but she's not keen on him either and would rather marry Alsemero (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith).

In desperation, as her wedding day approaches, she asks De Flores to help her get Alonzo out of the way and of course once the deed is done he isn't going to accept cold hard cash for his troubles.

Performed in the Young Vic's smaller Maria theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbon's action takes place with the audience sat around four sides. Those seated downstairs are mainly in little boxed off galleries although there are three wheelchairs, almost in the thick of the action, for those feeling brave*. Pretty much all of the props and bits of furniture are in the space already and either quickly wheeled into place or with the action moving to the furniture.

There are some nicely clever staging techniques mainly involving people in cabinets and large boxes but I won't spoil it too much. The wedding sequence was a nice little touch providing a neat musical interlude with all the guest and bride and groom dancing in sequence to Beyonce's Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).

Continue reading "Joe Hill-Gibbins' The Changeling - upstaged by jelly and trifle" »

Something old: Women Beware Women

Women-Beware-Women_1627394c Promised I'd write about this in a bit more detail earlier in the week, so here goes....

It's great to see a piece of classic drama such as Thomas Middleton's Women Beware Women played out on the grand Olivier stage at the National with all the stagey whizz-bangery and live music and singing they do so well.

If you want a plot summary - it's complex tangle of plotting and trickery as you'd imagine from a Jacobean drama - probably best to go to the official website but boiled down its about greed and satisfying carnal desires.

In classic Jacobean style there is a good serving lust and envy with most of the characters displaying little in the way scruples over how they get what they want and as this is Middleton it naturally includes everything from lying and bribery to rape and murder.

As with The Revenger's Tragedy which the National put on two years ago the whole play is essentially a set up for a delicious revenge-fuelled killing-fest in the second half.

Continue reading "Something old: Women Beware Women" »

Move over Harry Potter, Dudley Dursley is taking the stage

151644-1249176915 While Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe has been proving his acting mettle and shocking grannies and mum's by smoking on stage and stripping off in Equus here in London and on Broadway, his cousin Dudley in the film series played, by Harry Melling, has been quietly hitting the stage himself.

I first saw Melling last year in Mother Courage and all her Children at the National Theatre. He played Swiss Cheese, a character that is the son of Mother Courage played by Fiona Shaw who, coincidentally, plays his mother in the Harry Potter films*. It wasn't a major role  but he'd certainly shed the bumbling Dudley character and size and I remember him from the play.

28_women-beware-243 And so when I saw him listed among the cast for Women Beware Women, also at the National, I was eager to see whether the performance of Mother Courage was a one off. But it certainly wasn't. While his character in WBW - The Ward - is again a small part he made his mark quickly in the first half and I was actually looking forward to more of his character in the second half.

He raised the biggest laugh of the night and got a spontaneous applause. He left me wanting more of the character and looking out for him climatic final scene. If WBW is a taste of what he can do I look forward to his next project. 

There will be more Rev Stan thoughts on WBW coming soon.

* For those unfamiliar with the Potter films the stage-screen connection goes further, Radcliffe's Equus co-star Richard Griffith's plays Potter's Uncle and Dudley's dad in the film - incestuous, the theatre?

Melling is pictured above right as Dudley in Warner Bros Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with Richard Griffith's and Fiona Shaw and above left in Women Beware Women at the National Theatre