Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Eight - The White Devil

The White Devil, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, London. February 2017.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse really is the perfect place to see these wonderful Jacobean revenge tragedies. The eerie lighting really does let the evil of the plots shine through.

The White Devil was wonderfully nasty (in the best way) within this setting. The playhouse was dimly lit at the start and at first it was hard to work out who all of the characters were but as more candles were lit it became clearer to work out who was who and then the absurdity and evil really shone through, and as the play drew to a close the candles were put out and the room grew darker as the madness drew to a close. I don't think that the candles have been used to greater effect in anything I've seen in this location.

Vittoria is unhappily married - her family arranged this to save their own reputation and finances - and pursued by Bracciano who seems to love her despite being married himself.  We also have a scheming brother who will do anything, including pimp his sister, to advance his position, a disgraced Duke who will do anything to get back into the good books and then there's the corrupt cardinal and his lackey.

It is a revenge tragedy so no spoiler to say that by the end of the play the stage is littered with corpses - all of whom the audience doesn't really grieve over. And some of the deaths are wonderfully staged and incredibly amusing to watch. At the start I was concerned that the darkness of the plot wouldn't emerge as there seemed to be much overplaying of the crude humour but, like the lighting, this all just helped to show the true nature of the characters.

Since coming out of the Playhouse I've been discussing the play on and off with Rebecca and the Upstart Wren and like the best things I am liking it more and more.  As I said there are no characters that you admire wholeheartedly but unlike so many plays from this era I find Vittoria to be a believable and strong female lead. She is manipulated and used by all around her and yet throughout this production she remains strong and dignified, her crime is to fall in love with a man who is not her husband and then be caught up entirely in the wider politics of the time.

Unlike Rebecca I didn't dislike Bracciano completely, he is an out and out cad but he is also being manipulated by forces that he doesn't quite appreciate. His fickleness was played superbly and in the end he did seem to love Vittoria, however short their union was!

The true villain for me was Flamenio who had no care for anyone and would do anything to get what he wanted, the way he was played on stage actually made my skin crawl slightly.

On reading the programme on the train home I've learned that this production has cut text from the original and reassigned lines so I am now off to read Webster's original and see how it compares...

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