As a relative newbie to the world of plays and reviewing them, it was exciting for me to be invited along to watch The Duchess of Malfi in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Before I start on the play, I have to say that the Swan theatre is a great venue. The layout makes you feel as if you’re part of the performance, which was one of the things I loved about this.
I didn’t know the play at all before I went to see it, I tend to read up on plays, movies etc. after I’ve seen them, as I feel it can ruin the experience sometimes.
The story itself is simple enough, a strong-willed woman (the Duchess) is widowed and her brother’s plot against her marrying the man she loves.
The play is full of dark humour, a tragic tale, full of masculinity, portrayed by an inanimate large ‘beast’ in the corner of the stage throughout the play, and brought onto the stage by Joan Iyiola’s Duchess.
Chris New’s performance as the Cardinal was chilling, a quieter more sinister brother than Alexander Cobb’s, Ferdinand who is manic and jumpy in comparison. The rape scene with the Cardinal’s mistress Julia just showed the menace of the character and the more dangerous brother.
Joan’s performance was incredible, the voice and grief that came out of her whilst she was imprisoned was hauntingly beautiful and one of my favourite moments of the entire play.
The rest of the cast was great, especially Nicholas Tennant as Bosola who does the dirty work for the conniving brother and has some of the funnier lines.
One part of the play I struggled with was the relationship between the Duchess and Antonio, the lowly steward who wins her heart and secretly marries, I didn’t quite feel the connection and love there that causes the devastation and chaos when her brothers find out.
The impact of the inanimate beast in the final fight scene with the blood pouring out was ingenious with the crowd in the first row of the audience feeling part of the play, huddled with blankets to stop them from getting any splashback of the blood was fun.
The ending was bloody indeed, it just felt a little gimmicky after a while and for me personally lost its impact as everyone seemed to be writhing around in it, as much fun as I’m sure that was.
Joan would be the reason to watch this play, her performance is incredible from start to finish and I really missed her presence on stage in between her scenes.
All in all I did enjoy the play, it was well produced and the themes throughout were clear, female defiance in the face of masculinity.
The Duchess will be playing until 3rd August at The Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, for booking enquiries head over the RSC official site. Box Office 01789 403493
Mani’s Madness Rating 3.5/5