The Duchess of Malfi, The Old Vic, May 2012
My theatre going friend and I ventured south of the river this time to the incredible Old Vic Theatre.
Before I even talk about the production I need a moment or two to rave about the venue - I found the Old Vic to be a wonderful example of how you can bring a traditional building up to date but at the same time lose nothing of the original character. Unlike the Vaudeville Theatre from a few weeks ago this building is light and airy, comfortable and most important has plenty of ladies loos! In addition to this while the auditorium still feels like a traditional Victorian theatre it isn't at all thread bare or dated, plus - and this was a bonus on an surprisingly sticky May day - it has wonderfully efficient air conditioning. Much of this is I am sure due to the input from Kevin Spacey who was appointed artistic director in 2003.
Now the play...
This was another one that I knew nothing about before the performance except that it was written after Shakespeare but before the Civil War. John Webster appears as a young boy in the film Shakespeare in Love but there my knowledge stopped!
I was sucked in from curtain up, the speech was easier to follow than that of Shakespeare but I still needed a few moments to fully get my ear in tune but then the plot and the acting carried me though and I felt I was living the drama not watching a play.
The basic plot is that the Duchess of Malfi has been left a rich widow and her unscrupulous (and increasingly unhinged) brothers don't want her to marry again as they will then not see any of this money. The Duchess however has a mind of her own and does remarry for love, but shock horror he is from a much lower class than her. Their happy life comes to an end when her brothers find out about the marriage and subsequent children.
I think we counted 9 murders, 2 fake corpses and a severed hand so this play is not for the faint hearted!
I saw the actress playing the Duchess last summer at The Globe and thought she stole the show there and the same can be said of her performance here, but again she was supported by a strong cast and they convinced me that they really were feeling every emotion.
The setting was quite dark, very much like the theatres of Webster's time I suppose. While modern lights were used on stage actors carried candles a great deal of the time and it was all very atmospheric, including one scene which took place in pitch blackness - even the emergency exit lights were covered for it.
Reviews online seem mixed for this play - critics liked it but bloggers haven't been so keen. I'm on the side of the critics. I thought it was fabulous and I will be looking at the listings for The Old Vic a lot more often now as well as following Eve Best's career closely.