The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings








Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp London London Review
The Duchess of Malfi

I could curse the stars — Duchess
The Duchess of Malfi
In 1971 Ronald Bryden,the critic for The Observer, wrote in a review entitled “Blood Soaked Circus”, “I suppose you could define a pessimist as a man who thinks John Webster’s Duchess of Malfi a great play; an optimist as one who believes it actable.” Summed up, there is the challenge of this extravagant, gory Jacobean tragedy, with its themes of incestuous jealousy, torture, madness and murder, as to how to play it so as to suspend disbelief or at least stifle inappropriate mirth.

Eve Best is called upon to portray a woman later in great pain and suffering but also the flirtatious wife and employer of her steward Antonio (Tom Bateman) living on borrowed time. It is Jamie Lloyd’s lavish production which evokes the sullied hypocrisy of the Italian noblemen and clergy and the contextual powerlessness of women.

Soutra Gilmour’s majestic balconied staircased set is embellished with wood carving and ironwork, lit low with candelabra held by the mysteriously hooded figures in masks. This serves to underline the sinister, deceptive nature of the court and all who serve there. Ben and Max Ringham have created a richly Baroque score to accompany the scenes. The court figures move in a slow and stylised, swaying step, one forward, one back, conveying a formality, a protocol of courtly behaviour, a cover for the corruption beneath the surface. The duchess’s entrance sees her sweeping in smoothly as if she is on castors under the flowing skirt. The language too reflects the drama of the era, rich, lavish, extravagantly lustful. When Bosola the spy (Mark Bonnar) first tells us of his resentment at his place in society his words seem to drip venom all delivered with his Scots Glaswegian accent which, together with his beard and hair swept back, makes him look and sound uncannily like the maverick left wing politician George Galloway.

The night I saw The Duchess in the scene where she drags her steward (her husband by a secret marriage )into a sexual romp in her bed, the bed collapsed at one corner so that scene may have been more giggly than originally intended, but no matter. The frivolity tied in with the duchess’s obvious delight at being with her heart’s desire. serves as good contrast with what follows as her evil brothers threaten her. Maybe the bed should collapse every night?

Eve Best gives a moving performance as the ill treated duchess. However, with the formality of society underlined by this production, we are aware exactly how naive the duchess appears to be in thinking that a marriage to her servant Antonio would ever be acceptable to her ambitious brothers. Ironically the steward, Antonio has better manners and more gentility than anyone else in the court. Finbar Lynch’s chilling Cardinal offends with his lack of chastity and the terrible moment when he murders his mistress Julia (Iris Roberts) by making her swear on a poisoned bible. Harry Lloyd seems miscast as the duchess’s brother Ferdinand with a late dawning realisation of the incestuous feeling he has for his sister in the bedroom scene, again played that night on the broken bed.

Subscribe to our FREE email updates with a note from editor Elyse Sommer about additions to the website -- with main page hot links to the latest features posted at our numerous locations. To subscribe, E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message -- if you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
The Duchess of Malfi
Written by John Webster
Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Starring: Eve Best, Mark Bonnar, Tom Bateman, Finbar Lynch, Harry Lloyd
With: Tunji Kasim, Alan Westway, Adam Burton, Vyelle Croom, Madeline Appiah, Iris Roberts, Lucy Eaton, Taylor James, Nari Blair-Mangat, Harry Attwell, Freddie Anness-Lorenz, Alexander Aze, Max Furst
Designed by Soutra Gilmour
Lighting: James Farncombe
Sound and Music: Ben and Max Ringham
Movement: Ann Yee
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Price Waterhouse Coopers Under 25 Club at the Old Vic – 100 Seats for £12 for every performance
Box Office: 0844 871 7628
Booking to 9th June 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd April 2012 performance at the Old Vic, Waterloo Road, London SE1 (Rail/Tube:Waterloo)

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Duchess of Malfi
  • I disagree with the review of The Duchess of Malfi
  • The review made me eager to see The Duchess of Malfi
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email . . . also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2012, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from