The White Devil
The Sam Wanamaker Theatre, The Globe.
1 February 2017
John Webster’s thrilling Jacobean tragedy is, as director Annie Ryan says in her programme notes, like a whole box set in two hours. (Or two hours 45 to be more precise). It has, as Emma Rice points out, more twists and turns than a Cornish Lane, and this production makes me feel that Webster wrote the template for all those series we watch that end each episode on a cliff-hanger and build up to a season finale!
The play follows the fortunes of the impoverished Corombona family, their lives twisted up with those of the Dukes of Florence and Bracciano, two of the most prominent aristocratic houses of Italy. Two brothers, Marcello and Flamineo, work for the respective dukes. Their sister, Vittoria, has married Camillo, a wealthy older man- but Flamineo discovers his master, the Duke of Bracciano, has become infatuated with her. Encouraged by Vittoria and Flamineo, Bracciano plots to have both Camillo and his own wife murdered to clear the way for their union. But this is only the beginning of the bloodshed.
Rage, anger, revenge, misogyny, (Vittoria is put on trial and sent to a House for Fallen Women), it’s all there in your news feed today, and Annie Ryan’s excellent, pacey and taut production, keeps the parallels and the shocks coming. Joseph Timms is excellent as Flamineo, sexy and confident, unapologetic in his evil, and using the strong intimacy of the space very well and engaging with the audience brilliantly. He is well matched by Jamael Westman as Marcello, and corruption in power is superbly realised by the performances of Jamie Ballard as Bracciano and Paul Bazely as the Duke of Florence. They stalk the stage, prowling around the figure of Vittoria, (Kate Stanley-Brennan, particularly strong in the trial scene), the deaths they cause merely a game of revenge for them. This is an ensemble of fine performances, including Fergal McElherron as a powerful Lodovico and a hilarious Camillo, Anna Healy as Cornelia, mother of the murderers and Gary Cooper a strong presence as Monticelso, snaking his way to the position of Pope.
Even though it is billed as a tragedy, and the body count is high, this is a delightful, funny production, and the pace keeps the audience gripped from the beginning, the black comedy is delivered extremely well. Candlelight is the only lighting in the Wanamaker, and at times I felt I needed to see the actor’s faces more clearly, and some of the minor roles are sketched a little thinly. However, hundreds of years later, I realised that Tarantino is yet to come up with anything more grisly that the work of Webster, and that the final scene of Reservoir Dogs was first staged in The White Devil! A thoroughly entertaining evening, blood-thirsty and hilarious, this production will appeal to the devil in you.
Until 16 April 2017