Tonight it’s the BBC4 broadcast of The Duchess of Malfi, as it was performed earlier in the year at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse – Shakespeare’s Globe. This is an important occasion, not least because there has been no Jacobean plays on tv since 1993 (more on the subject at John Wyver’s blog, and if you have the least bit of interest on how theatre translates into other media, you have to follow his writing).
I found the production itself bloodless – figuratively, the luminous beauty of the setting didn’t always translate to the fever of the story and text. With one exception: David Dawson as Ferdinand, his soul twitching with forbidden desires while his face remained waxed in explosive immobility.
I first saw David Dawson in Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2009. As Gethin Price, the uncompromising idealist of the group walking the line between madness and genius, David Dawson’s impressive talents were in full display: a feverish performance that combined subtlety and extravagance, threat and charisma in equal measures. I clearly remember him in his big scene, full of drool and snot, both repulsive and attractive.
The 2009 production of Comedians was directed by Sean Holmes, who – in 2001 – had directed another production of the play, with David Tennant playing Gethin Price. I can see many of the same qualities in the two actors, a talent for combining the normal and the off-key, and a hard challenging magnetism. My David Tennant photo from the Comedians is not good quality, as it’s taken from a faded copy of Theatre Record, but it’s a nice juxtaposition of the two actors in the same scene.
There is another – amusing – connection: David Dawson played Romeo for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2008, one year before he played Gethin Price at Trevor Griffiths’ play. As chance has it, David Tennant had played Romeo for the RSC in 2000, one year before he himself played Price.