Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Theatre - The Duchess of Malfi starring Gemma Arterton

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a production of The Duchess of Malfi in the recently opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the latest addition to the Shakespeare's Globe. The new indoor theatre seats 350 people with a lower and upper gallery circling the stage and a pit area constructed to imitate 17th Century English playhouses. The theatre is almost entirely made of wood and solely uses candles to light the place, so upon stepping inside it, the atmosphere was already magical. My seat was the first on the lower circle so I was at the very front of the right hand side of the stage. I'd say it was quite a good view even though sometimes you get quite a bit of the actors' backs to you, they move around the stage all the time so it wasn't a big deal. Being at the front also meant plenty of interaction with the cast as besides making eye contact with the audience, the actors often talk towards certain people in the crowd and one of them even climbed onto the wooden barriers surrounding us and made their way around everyone. As previously mentioned, six chandeliers are the only source of light; hoisted up and down in different combinations and variations to change how bright certain areas of the stage are and create the desired ambient. In one of the scenes all the candles are snuffed out, throwing the theatre into darkness, the voices of the actors amplified in the pitch black.

The Duchess of Malfi is a tragedy written by John Webster in 1612 -1613. I vaguely remember seeing a modest university production of it in Australia but it was so long ago that I more or less went into this one completely clueless of where it was going to take me. The story starts in a court in Amalfi, Italy in 1504 and as the characters take their places the first thing I'm drawn to is their beautiful costumes. Gemma Arterton as the Duchess, swans onto the stage in a regal purple Elizabethan gown, the first of her intricate costumes, complete with voluptuous skirts, flowing sleeves and a ruff collar that appears so historically accurate it brings you back in time immediately. I am a serious lover of period dressing so being so close to such detailed pieces was just heavenly for me, even the male actors looked equally majestic in an array of frilled tunics and velvet doublets, each person had on a different pair of embroidered loafers that reminded me of something Charlotte Olympia would design. I would also like to point out that the Duchess' second gown, primarily mustard yellow but made of a material that sparkled like a million tiny rainbows under the candlelight, draping pearls attached from the neckline, was my personal favourite.

Gemma Arterton gives a solid performance as the Duchess, admittedly being a feminist it really pleased me to see her completely ignore her selfish brothers' controlling ways and basically continued to do whatever the heck she wanted (probably speaking too soon as it is a tragedy). She successfully portrays a clever woman with a calm demeanour but also coming across as kind, which instantly attached me to her character. In fact the cast are all rather excellent. The Cardinal, one of the antagonists, constantly pulling plans to thwart out his sleeve, is so villainous you'd expect him to be twirling his moustache all the time and is one of those characters you almost admire for being so nonchalantly evil. Bosola and Julia provided many laughs in somewhat miserable times for everyone. I was especially impressed by David Dawson, who plays Ferdinand, the Duchess' erratic twin brother (why do I always have to be drawn to the most psychotic roles eh?) His was the standout performance in my opinion, going from a lunatic villain to a pitiable victim in an impressive range of schizophrenic emotions in his scenes. I never knew what he was about to do next and almost felt like I needed to duck behind the wooden barrier separating me from the stage whenever he drew near.

I'm not sure whether this is something typical of Shakespeare's Globe productions or if it's more of an ode to how theatre was done in the past (do comment below if you know because I'm intrigued), but all the plays I have watched at this venue incorporate some singing and dancing, and one especially long sequence at the end of the performance before they bow. It definitely enhances the overall experience and along with the harmonies that the actors sing to transition scenes, the accompanying music is all done live with a team of string instrumentalists on the top balcony. 

I left the Sam Wanamaker playhouse in a state of wonder, having experienced something very special and unique indeed. I approve of the Globe putting on more traditional little plays like this, it's a nice change from the extravaganza of the West End. 

The Duchess of Malfi is running everyday until February 16 and you can get tickets and check performance times here.

Photos 1 & 6 are official photocall images via JustFabzz
All other photos taken by me and Emily Wheeler



  1. Looks like a great time I am loving the costumes

With A City Dream

  2. Your reviews are always the best, I love seeing what plays you go and see. I was actually talking about this play to my mum the other day, we both wanted to see it this week. Unfortunately it hasn't transpired yet, but there's still time to see it soon, hopefully... Really excited to visit the new theatre! xx

    1. Thank you Katie, that means a lot to me coming from you. I'd love to hear what you think when you see it :)

  3. Wow, can't believe you got to meet Gemma! I've heard lots of good things about this play
    Lucia's Loves

  4. I love period costumes so much - sometimes I wish I was born back in those times just to be able to wear those dresses but the thought of horrible toilets and strange food always stops me. x A.

  5. I'm so jealous you met Gemma Arterton, she's amazing and so talented! Sounds like you had a fab time, you always make me want to go to the theatre xxx

  6. Hi dear!! Good morning :)
    Your blog is so cool, i really love your style!!
    Come to see mine, and my new post "Stand here"

  7. Oh, you're so lucky! I love Gemma Arterton so much! She is so pretty and so are you sweety!

    Check my blog if you got time to kill, kisses! x ❤

  8. I'm so freekin jealous!! You go to the theatre so much, I want to go too xx

  9. I've never heard of the play, but the costumes are incredible!

  10. Gemma looks so naturally beautiful! I loved her in "Tamara Drewe".


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