Cover Her Face at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club
In this touching, raw play, theatre company Inky Cloak have transformed John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi into a rich fable on the transgender issues that so spook the modern world.
Set in 1950s London, when the gay underworld begins to mingle with that of the rich, Cover Her Face features iconic writer and performance artist La JohnJoseph at the helm as duchess in distress, whose third-gender mentality is the cause of much anger and resentment between her and her two brothers.
In place of the original Cardinal is Jack Johns’ Gary Oldman-esque Minister, whose assertive confidence and amorality is in stark contrast to the hotheaded foolery of the other characters. Whilst the coolness of the Minister is chilling, the Duchesses twin brother Ferdinand (Tom Cuthbertson) offers a mean form of humanity that spices up the action. The scene in the Duchesses chamber where Ferdinand pulls a knife to the Duchesses throat is particularly poignant; the untouched Jacobean verse takes on a whole new meaning when melded into a scene of flawless drag vs. sharp, pinstriped suit, demonstrating perfectly the timeless universality of Webster’s original drama.
Whilst the emphasis of this modern version is on sensitivity towards gender and sexuality, the class characteristics of the characters are too well executed to be overlooked. Tom Campion’s love-struck Antonio is a rough speaking East Londoner with a lope to boot, and Kane Surry’s brazen and incredibly flamboyant, yet not-too-ridiculously camp Julian (née Julia) is a welcome comic undertone. Also impossible to forget is Nigel Osner’s pitch-perfect gag as Julian’s suggestively impotent husband and general well-wisher Castruccio, reborn in this play as an East End drag queen, whose friendliness and bright extravagancy provides an impressive closing speech to cut through the barbaric tragedy of the pin-striped fools.
Christopher Tester is the one to watch out for, however. Tester’s Bosola is demanding, mean and rough-edged, yet heartfelt and earnest. His ruddy cheeks, hard, glistening eyes and fluidly sharp elocution all contributed towards an energy that was mesmerizing and a pure joy to watch.
With a nine strong all-male cast, this play is particularly muscular, brash and fiercely physical. Expect to be whirled away at the boldness of its sexuality and its feistiness. Under the direction of Daniel Fulvio and Martin Moriarty, Inky Cloak have expertly layered two very similar stories on top of each other, from time periods over three hundred years apart, with a passion that is incredibly affecting and a theatre space thrillingly intimate.
Photos: Leon Csernohlavek
Cover Her Face is at Bethnal Green’s Working Men’s Club until 15th February 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre company’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Cover Her Face here: