Theatre: The White Devil, The Swan, Stratford
That's certainly the effect of the closing scenes of The White Devil in Gale Edwards's staging for the RSC at the Swan. You doubt that this is what Webster meant; but since there's probably no way round it, with audiences used to massive body-counts on film, it's probably best to embrace the ludicrousness of the violence, and locate the tragedy elsewhere; which is what Edwards does, and does brilliantly.
The humour and the pathos largely spring from Richard McCabe, who gives a startling depth to the central figure of Flamineo - as McCabe plays him, he's not simply a pander (pimping his sister, Vittoria, to the powerful Duke Brachiano) and a fawn, but also a jester. It's a superbly louche, funny performance, which finds a degree of cynical humour in the role that reminds you we're not so far removed in time from Restoration comedy. Beneath the servility, McCabe conveys the cruelty and sensuality that drive Flamineo, at the same time suggesting how much he has sacrificed to ambition - there's a moment of powerful sadness when, seeing his mother raving over the corpse of the brother he has killed, Flamineo observes: "I have a strange thing in me, to the which I cannot give a name, without it be compassion."
Around this mercurial, hugely enjoyable star turn, Edwards creates a sharply focused picture of Webster's post-Machiavellian world, supported by a batch of excellent performances. Here, powerful men use morality as a cover for merciless pragmatism - a point exemplified by Stephen Boxer's chilly Duke of Florence; for women the only lever available to use against such men is sex, Jane Gurnett's Vittoria is fully aware both of the power sex gives her, and how fragile that power is.
I don't want to make too many claims for The White Devil - Webster is too possessed by flesh and politics to create fully believable characters, and his plotting is execrable. But he does have eloquence, wit and moral indignation on his side; and, as this production makes clear, that's more than enough to get by.
n To 7 May (01789 295623)
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Barbarians vs Samoa interrupted by sprinklers as fans criticise lack of Wi-Fi and poor seating at West Ham's Olympic Stadium
- 2 Caitlyn Jenner car crash: Driver who died in collision sued by surviving passengers for $18.5m
- 3 Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
- 4 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe Ned Stark's son may have a twin sister
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Monty Python-inspired Australian Sam Simmons wins comedy award with 'very silly' show
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge?'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director promises most exciting premiere yet 'starts off with a bang'
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Online toy marathon to launch new film
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Stock up on canned food for stock market crash, warns former Gordon Brown adviser