Runs until 16th April in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Annie Ryan’s production of The White Devil plunges the audience into a dark and twisted dystopian world of lust and revenge where justice is ‘ravished’ and no one can be trusted. The Wanamaker is the perfect location for the intimacy and gore of Webster’s revenge tragedy. The candles were taken full advantage of, and the dark scenes played themselves out on a black painted stage floor. It was exciting to see Webster’s early modern Italy so thrillingly reinvented as a neo-Victorian, semi-steampunk fantasy world by the wonderful design of Jamie Vartan.
The plot follows the beautiful and proud Vittoria (brilliantly portrayed by Kate Stanley-Brennan) whose affair with the Duke Bracciano (Jamie Ballard) is aided and abetted by her brother Flamineo (Joseph Timms). Bracciano plots to bring about the murder of their respective spouses, who, rather than appearing sympathetic, instead invite mockery from the audience at the comic presentation of their deaths.
“a terrifying depiction of where we might be heading”
A creative use of what appeared to be an ancient diver’s helmet as spectacles allowed Bracciano to see the murders acted out melodramatically below him. Vittoria is put on trial for the murder of her husband Camillo but is convicted of being a ‘whore’ through the perverted justice system, operated by the Catholic Church and governed by the Cardinal Monticelso (Gary Cooper). The audience were consistently addressed and engaged with directly, so that there was no escape from being implicated and complicit themselves in the acts of violence and corrupted justice of Vittoria’s trial. The play ends with a string of vengeful murders culminating in an extremely dramatic final scene that strews bodies across the stage.
The cast are consistently strong without exception, but stand-out performances for me came from Joseph Timms’ energetic and charismatic Flamineo (although the Cockney accent felt a little unnecessary) alongside Mollie Lambert as the young Giovanni, whose thoughtful and engrossing portrayal of a child growing up in a nightmare world metamorphosed into that of a Duke in his early teens; determined to bring about justice but unable to comprehend any other form than increasing violence.
The moments of comedy and frequent sarcasm are nevertheless accompanied by sudden acts of scruffy, realistic violence. In the tight and enclosed space of the Wanamaker playhouse, the audience is forced to witness very real moments of danger as characters manhandle one other and climb through and around the audience.
In her interview, Ryan stated that ‘the world has turned more Websterian by the minute’ and indeed, the misogyny, inequality, violence and lapse of morality apparent in this production are a terrifying depiction of where we might be heading in our post-Trump, post-Brexit world.
‘O ye dissembling men!’
Image: Marc Brenner