The Duchess of Malfi - Review

The Duchess of Malfi - Review

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Posted 2024-02-20 by Jenfollow

Thu 15 Feb 2024 - Sat 24 Feb 2024

Images © Daniel Rabin Photography

The Duchess of Malfi by Arrant Knaves Theatre Company is currently playing at Meat Market (Cobblestone Pavilion) - 3 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne until Sat 24 Feb 2024, and you can get your tickets here . Do note there's haze, sexual references and simulated violence at this 2.5-hour show, inclusive of interval. Written by John Webster in around 1612, it tells a true story of love, betrayal and murder. Centring around two secrets; a secret marriage, and a secret murder, the Duchess of Malfi is considered one of the greatest of all revenge tragedies, which was a very popular style of theatre during Jacobean (1603-1625) times.

Director Tom Bradley who also plays 'Daniel de Bosola' in the production has adapted the play to streamline and update it, while still using Jacobean/Elizabethan language and phrasing. He draws a parallel between the Jacobean period and the modern-day world by pointing out that the social themes in its time haven't really changed over the centuries. Set in Malfi, Italy, the recently widowed Duchess falls in love with Antonio, a lowly steward. Her brothers Ferdinand and the Cardinal have forbidden her to remarry as they seek to defend their inheritance and standing in society. Suspicious of their independent sister, they get Bosola, a former servant of the Cardinal to spy on her. She elopes with Antonio and bears him three children over three years in secret. Bosola eventually tracks them down and discovers all, as the Duchess takes him into her confidence, unaware he is Ferdinand's spy. The Duchess and two of her children, and her lady-in-waiting Cariola are taken into custody to meet their fate, while Antonio escapes with his eldest son. Seeing this tragedy unfold, Bosola has regrets and turns against the brothers, to take up the cause of revenge for the Duchess. and this is when the body count rises.


The cast of 11 and the characters are as follows.

Christina Costigan - is the Duchess; protagonist sister to Ferdinand & the Cardinal.
Bruce Langdon - is the Cardinal, brother of the Duchess and Ferdinand, and not quite above board with a mistress in tow.
Justin Harris Parslow - is Ferdinand the twin brother of the Duchess, and brother to the Cardinal
Sophie Graham - is Cariola, the Duchess' waiting woman privy to her secrets,
Christien Dariol - is Antonio the steward and second husband of the Duchess.
Yvonne Martin - is Delio, Antonio's friend.
Chris Boek - is Castruchio, the man with an unfaithful wife - the Cardinal's mistress.
Marisa Warington - is Julia, the unfaithful wife of Castruchio.
Tom Bradley (the Director) - is Bosola, a former servant of the Cardinal.
Tyrie Aspinall - is Roderigo the doctor who diagnosed Ferdinand's madness as 'lycanthropia' - a wolf-like creature
Flynn Davis - is a priest


Surprisingly the Jacobean/Elizabethan language and phrasing was not that difficult to follow if you listened well. It was quite amazing in some ways how the phrases were so poetically descriptive. Sound production was on point, and a good effort was put into costuming, if not perfect, for a small production. Lighting could have been a little more architectural to suit the tragic tale. Less would have been more at times, and some scenes of the darkness could have been sculpted to pronounce the moment subtly with a faded shade of light where necessary - where it alludes to darkness but gives the audience a little glimpse of what's going on. The sets on stage were simple with large frames standing in as a framework to enter and exit through. A back-lit screen along the back of the stage made for some shadow play for some of the murderous scenes of the young-uns.

Unfortunately for all its intent, what was on stage did not portray the depth of this famous revenge tragedy, nor was it emotive enough to draw the audience in - at least not me. The great love story was rushed with no lead-up, happening at a moment's notice, making it unbelievable. The story felt a little disconnected without flow as it raced from scene to scene. Props were a little too unrealistic with long daggers that looked rubbery and bounced a little when thrown on the ground, making the stabbing scenes feel a little fake. The severed hand must have come straight off a rubber mannequin, as again it too could have been made to look a little more realistic. I'm not sure if everyone got whose severed hand it was. Budget constraints in mind, all could have been forgiven - if only the whole play made up for what was lacking in its props by being more engaging.


Christina Costigan puts in a strong effort in her performance as the Duchess, and Justin Parslow as her brother Ferdinand puts in quite an enjoyable performance as the narcissist, though loses the plot when descending into madness and believes he's a wolf. However, it easily goes unnoticed when overall performances throughout the play seem contrived and over the top. Noteworthy is Yvonne Martin as Delio - a little twist with a female playing the role; Antonio's friend, who is a natural, and carries her role in her stride.

The Meat Market is a beautiful iconic heritage-listed building with cobblestone floors; atmospheric enough to be a perfect backdrop for a tragedy. Unfortunately, this was not taken advantage of, and the whole play comes across without much substance. The characters were just a little muddy and not commanding enough in their performances to bring their characters to ripened fruition. So much so, even scenes of death and murder failed to shake the audience to the core in its horror and rising numbers - including the murderous backlit scenes. I just didn't connect to the under-developed characters, but perhaps you'll feel differently about it. You'll have to go see it for yourself to find out.



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278113 - 2024-02-16 05:31:08

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