The Duchess of Malfi at the New Diorama
This 17th century Jacobean classic was successfully adapted by director Natalie York to portray the tragic tale of violent revenge fuelled by jealousy and lust. Set in 16th century Italy, the story follows a Duchess who secretly marries a servant, Antonio, and bears his children. This is completely against her brother’s wishes, since he (the Duke Ferdinand) wants her to remain a widow in order to maintain the family honour. This leads to the common “revenge murder” plot, which is typical for plays of this era.
This adaptation constantly left the audience on edge and suitably uncomfortable at the unfolding of events, and the principal actors from the Pell Mell theatre company were convincing throughout. The ensemble work was effective and well-rehearsed, with scene changes done in eerie white masks to a modern, horror movie-esque score. The show was carried by four principle actors, with outstanding performances by Lucy Laing (the Duchess), Tom Blyth (the Duke), Callum Cameron (Antonio) and Stephen MacNeice as the cynical and conniving servant Bosola, a character who is responsible for much of the story’s bloodshed.
The Duke was particularly well-characterised; contrasted with a regal and composed aristocrat, he played a snivelling, mentally unstable and anxious man with an incestuous obsession for his sister and a fear of disgrace – very much a product of the Italian Renaissance rigid social structure. Bosola and the Duchess were also characters critical and demonstrative of the contemporary values.
Props and lighting were used effectively, and a particularly gruesome and intense atmosphere was created in the second act. The Jacobean language used throughout the play could have been difficult for an unseasoned theatre-goer or non-native English speaker to follow, however the gist of the story was made very clear through suitable director’s choices and convincing acting from the cast.
The Duchess of Malfi is on at New Diorama theatre from 5th August until 23rd August 2014, for further information or to book visit here.