The Duchess of Malfi – John Webster’s sombre melodrama

The Duchess of Malfi – John Webster’s sombre melodrama

At Shakespeare’s Globe there is a charming new indoor Jacobean playhouse, fit for dramas, masques, chamber concerts and opera, with a capacity for 340. The theatre is named after the American actor/director, Sam Wanamaker (1919-1993) without whom the Globe would never have been rebuilt.

No attempt has been made to replicate a particular building; it is an archetypal timber-framed Jacobean playhouse. Wooden, horseshoe-shaped and with a platform stage, it has two galleries, which surround a seated pit. There is an ornate celestial ceiling.

The seats are benches which are still in the process of being cushioned. There is standing room (with a rail to lean on) in the upper gallery for £10. The lighting is provided by pure beeswax candles. There are six naked chandeliers (with 72 candles) which rise and fall.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a perfect venue for Webster’s sombre melodrama, which is  full of violent passions and set in a corrupt Italian Renaissance court. The play, which tells a characteristically cynical and horrific story of ambition, lust and murder, is based on true events.

The Duchess, a young widow, disobeys her two brothers and remarries in secret her low-born steward and has three children by him. When the brothers find out, they are so angry they hire a killer to torment and murder her.

Gemma Arterton is the beautiful and brave Duchess. Alex Waldman is her lover.  David Dawson is her brother, Ferdinand, a violent whirlwind, who has incestuous feelings for her and goes stark raving mad.

James Garnon is the other brother, who is a carnal and evil Cardinal. Sean Gilder is Bosola, the thug the brothers hire to kill their sister.  Globe regulars will be pleased to hear that there is a dancing curtain call.

The new and spotlessly clean oakenPplayhouse is so much more interesting than the actual performance of Webster’s play which was constantly being spoiled by the audience laughing in all the wrong places.

by Robert Tanitch, Mature Times theatre reveiwer

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