Review Roundup: THE DUCHESS OF MALFI Starring Gemma Arterton
THE DUCHESS OF MALFI opened at Shakespeare's Globe on January 9, 2014 starring Gemma Arterton in the title role. Let's see what the critics had to say:
Michael Coveney of whatsonstage.com writes: John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (400 years old this year), is perfect: a dark, psychological shocker to be glimpsed in flickering light, a grim tale of a widowed Duchess forbidden new love by her barmy brothers - a lascivious cardinal and a lycanthropic madman - subjected to terrors, forced into exile; with torture, waxen effigies, a severed hand (which bounced like a plastic toy on the shiny oaken stage), grisly onstage strangulation, an open coffin and moonstruck ruins.
Michael Billington of the Guardian writes: It is one of the great female roles in the canon and Gemma Artertonbrings to it beauty, determination and a sense of moral goodness. She's larky in the wooing of socially inferior Antonio, bewildered and exasperated by the insensate cruelty of her twin brother, Ferdinand, and dignified in her death. When, at the last, she cries "I am Duchess of Malfi still" it is not with her bellow of the grand tragedienne but with the stoic certainty of someone stating a simple fact.... But, good as Arterton is, it is David Dawson as Ferdinand who really steals the show. From the start there is something clearly amiss with this tense, edgy, lank-locked Duke. He is palpably a victim of thwarted incest as you see when he feverishly imagines his twin sister in the act of love with "some strong-thighed bargeman".
Dominic Maxwell of the Times writes: (Gemma Arterton) speaks Webster's blank verse with seductive ease. We are so close to her open flirting that we feel like voyeurs... It takes a while to get used to the candle-only lighting, but it becomes virtually a character in the play... James Garnon, as the smoothly psychotic Cardinal, or Paul Rider as the courtier Delio, make a big impact by not working too hard... So this difficult masterpiece slips down remarkably smoothly. Granted, once the Duchess is strangled (nastily), Webster has left us with a fifth act that overstays its welcome, and it's hard to care too much about the pile of bodies at the end. Or at least it is until the mournful, beautiful closing jig that unites all the characters, dead and alive.
Paul Taylor of the Independent writes: With its morbid imagery, perverted desires and skulking intriguers, Webster's tragedy is well-chosen to show-case the Wanamaker's aptitude for conjuring up the shadowy and the shuddering. "Oh this gloomy world!/In what a shadow or deep pit of darkness,/Doth womanish and fearful mankind live!" declares Bosola, the spy whose transition from malcontent hard-nut to horrified voice of conscience is vigorously charted here by Sean Gilder.
Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph writes: The Globe's artistic director Dominic Dromgoole has chosen John Webster's Jacobean shocker The Duchess of Malfi to open the theatre and I am not sure the decision was a wise one. It is less than two years since Eve Best gave a superb performance as the persecuted heroine in a cracking production by Jamie Lloyd at the Old Vic. This staging seems underpowered in comparison, though the lavish Jacobean costumes are ravishing in the candlelight and the play sits very snugly in the new building, There is also a delightful score by Claire van Kampen, superbly performed by the musicians in the balcony.