In 2011, I read and studied The Duchess of Malfi (1613) as part of my English Literature Degree with The Open University. I prefer reading novels to dramas, but I enjoyed this play because it tenaciously explored the themes of love, marriage, religion, betrayal and gender roles.
When I heard that Gemma Arterton would be playing the Duchess in the new production at The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, I was desperate to go. So desperate in fact, that I accidentally ruined my surprise Christmas gift of tickets to the play. I’ve been a fan of Arterton since I saw her in the BBC production of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles. She broke my heart but restored my faith in human morality. This is why I had to see her as The Duchess.
On Sunday 9th of February I entered the brand-spanking-new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As the name suggests, it is a tribute to the man who brought Shakespeare’s Globe back to London in 1997. The Playhouse is built in the style of an authentic Jacobean theatre, lit entirely by candlelight. In comparison with The Globe it’s tiny, but this only enhances the authentic atmosphere.
I stood in the upper circle with a slightly restricted view, but I was able to see Arterton in all her glory. She was supported by a phenomenal cast, particularly David Dawson and James Garnon who played her obsessive brothers Ferdinand and The Cardinal. Dawson’s delivery was flawless and Garnon’s vanity and cruelty were mesmerising. Sean Gilder’s Bosola was equally as enthralling. The Duchess’ death scene was brutal, but Arterton confronted it like the professional that she is and captivated the entire audience.
It was a delight to watch Webster’s play by candlelight, and see one of my favourite actresses in the flesh. I’ll definitely be returning to The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in the future.
***Also: this play proves that the Bible is deadly (The Cardinal poisons its pages and tricks his mistress in to kissing it, resulting in her choking to death). Webster, you cunning atheist!