John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi is a tricky play. The lovers hardly lay eyes on each other. The heroine – SPOILER – dies forty minutes before the end of the play. The sane go mad and the mad go madder. Pell Mell’s production of the play, currently playing at the New Diorama theatre, takes a simple clear approach. This is a maze where almost everyone is implicated in corrupting (and corrupted) power. Some of it works well and some of it less so.
In this version, the Duchess, played by Lucy Laing, seems as manipulating a force as her brothers, and although it’s not unreasonable approach to take, it leaves the production with nowhere to go. The Duchess is often petulant, self-centered and stringent, and the delivery of lines like “the misery of us that are born great!” has the tinge of whining. Later, when imprisoned by her brothers, the hardness thaws and she looks like a high-class call girl on her way down, an effect far more sympathetic than it sounds. Continue reading