Review: `Dallas' and the Duchess

The Duchess of Malfi Ustinov Studio, Bath

This is the story of the trouble which ensues when a duchess takes up with her financial adviser. The Duchess of Malfi, however, does not end up with her own chat show and regular spreads in Hello!. Being the eponymous heroine of a revenge tragedy, she ends up dead. As does everyone else. Life was simpler in those days.

For all its exquisite poetic gems, Webster's play is plotted by numbers, and very few numbers at that. It is the Jacobean equivalent of Dallas - dirty dealings amongst the rich and powerful, a glamour soap spiced with the unpleasantness of human nature. It offered its contemporary audience a slice of grotesquely violent escapism which revels in man's selfishness and duplicity: a Jacobean Reservoir Dogs encrusted with poetry of sufficient memorability as to furnish forth a thousand thriller titles.

However, modern spectators can get their fix of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" thrice weekly through the ether, and therefore expect a little more food for thought from their nights out. Kate Brooke's directorial conceit to spice up Webster's blood and gore lies in drawing parallels with present-day "Duchesses". The modernist interior set, the swarming paparazzi and the Camelot era costumes and songs place the Duchess firmly and unsubtly alongside Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana. Yet the attempt to merge the Jacobean and contemporary strands is half-hearted and, in the end, unsuccessful. The modern dress is bizarrely accessorised with frilly collars and floppy velvet hats, and it overstretches credibility to infest the stage with reporters crying "the people want to know" when the script dictates that the Duchess manages to marry and have three children without anyone finding out about it. Overall, the Sixties-cum-Nineties setting feels like an ill-fitting jacket squeezed onto Webster's play to give it more "contemporary relevance".

The production's other major flaw lies in its central romance. John Griffin's Antonio is simply a total drip, and no self-respecting duchess would give him a second glance. He may be an accountant, but that does not mean he should be grey and dull. Stuck with a lover with no appealing characteristics whatsoever, Tanya Ronder is required to make the relationship believable through her performance alone. Cracking her haughty grandeur with love- struck smiles, she very nearly succeeds in convincing us that this woman would risk all for this drone, so that her graphic descent into dulled madness and contended resignation to death at least vergers on the credible.

Complementing her sharp-edged and sweet-natured portrayal of a woman in love, Jonathan Wrather expertly rides the rollercoaster of her brother Ferdinand's enflamed emotions, bringing believability to the character's psychotic twists and turns. Justin Shevlin's Bosola scuttles across the stage like a spider, clinging to walls in clouds of black malevolence, and he gives the character's shift from self-seeking murderer to righteous revenger considerably more depth than the script alone might suggest.

These finely crafted performances struggle beneath the mantle of an unfocussed directorial concept which serves only to confuse, not enlighten. The Duchess of Malfi may contain superficial parallels to 20th-century events - but it is debatable whether the simple plot can bear the weighty superstructure of such direct "contemporisation".

To 21 March, Ustinov Studio (01225 448844) and touring.

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Life and Style
Meow! ... Again, Kim Kardashian goes for a sexy Halloween costume, wrapping her body with a latex catsuit and high heeled knee boots
fashionFrom Heidi Klum to Kim Kardashian
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Life and Style
tech

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

    £47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker