The White Devil
Menier Chocolate Factory
This thrilling production really makes one wonder why, apart from The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster is practically forgotten.
The revenge tragedy might not be the highest art form but with its Grand Guignol bloodlust and tongue in cheek comedy, it was the seventeenth century's equivalent to today's horror movie.
Designer Philip Whitcomb excels using a narrow traverse, which ensures that the production is intimate and all too often voyeuristic. His costumes are modern but with a period feel, none more so that the sexy red velvet frock sported by the unfaithful anti-heroine Vittoria Corombona.
The plot on these occasions is of only mild relevance to proceedings, here centring on a high profile, illicit affair that leads to murder on a massive scale.
Clare Price plays Vittoria, a beautiful, blonde wife who has already found her husband wanting before her brother Flamineo, the White Devil himself, introduces her to his lustful master, the Duke of Bracciano (Darrell D'Silva). The pair are instantly besotted and their passion is magnified by the staging, as we can almost feel the heat that they generate.
Aidan McArdle makes an effete Flamineo with painted nails, make-up and a brooch. He is an evil schemer who knows how to help his master but above all, serves his own desires.
In no time, Claire Cox and John Dougall as the respective spouses, have met bloodcurdlingly horrible deaths in a play where the writer has gone to considerable trouble to think up novel murders, peaking with poisonings using a portrait and a Darth Vader mask and Flamineo's kinky, gender bending ending.
The much shorter post-interval session is one long blood bath, as revenge is meted out on the perpetrators of crimes then on revengers and revengers' revengers.
As is supposed to happen in this genre, almost everyone whom we have seen has been finished off by the final curtain with the exception of Christopher Godwin's powerless Pope and Sandra Voe in the role of the mother of Vittoria and Flamineo. Even she was last seen having a mad moment lifted straight from Ophelia's in Hamlet.
Webster had done such a thorough job that the only people this gory bloodbath left to pick up the pieces and lead Padua into a bright future were the Duke's son and the cleaner (literally).
For 2¾ hours, Jonathan Munby and his fine cast, with Aidan McArdle (slyness personified) and Claire Price (especially strong defending honour in a trial scene) the pick, grip the attention in an evening that is both visually stunning and highly entertaining.
It might be some time before The White Devil is seen again, so don't miss out.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher