Theatre Trip: Duchess of Malfi

London F45

On Thursday the 28th of September, the English department held a trip to see ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ at the Drayton Arms Theatre.

It was a simple yet striking performance with only four actors, meaning that several characters had been cut out, which was effective as it kept the drama at the forefront of the play. Furthermore, the director's choice to have a plain set, painted black all over, encouraged the audience's focus to remain on the actors and the plot with none of the distractions associated with gregarious staging. As the ‘Duchess of Malfi’ is a play replete with darkness, the colour black was extremely appropriate, drawing upon and accentuating this aspect. 

The use of modern costume, whilst adhering to the traditional language of the play, brought in an element of modernity, representative of the contemporary moral stance within the play.

Webster's drama defies social conventions during the seventeenth century: the Duchess exercises her own independence through marrying the man she wants as opposed to the man that she should and it is this use of modern costume that captures the avant-garde nature of this play. 

The use of lighting was arguably one of the most dramatic features of the play and fit in well with the theme of deceit, as it produced distinct shadows on set, amplifying the ominous tone of the play. The effect it created and the meaning behind doing so was hard to ignore as the director introduced the use of torches to the performance, creating harsh contrasts between the tenebrosity of the room and the abrasive light of the torch. 

I felt that for a play as inherently bloodthirsty as the 'Duchess of Malfi', not enough violence was incorporated and the actors were forced to rely solely on their acting skills to manifest the extreme brutality of the play. The use of microphones and other sound effects would have been a way in which the director could amend this, with the Duchess's screaming becoming more distressing to the audience.  As well as this, a more elaborate use of make-up could have aided the production to make it more bloody. However, it is understandable how such aspects were not used within this production, so as not to contradict the minimalist nature that contributed to its powerful portrayal.

Overall, I thought it was an admirable performance and was useful to us as students to improve our understanding of 'The Duchess of Malfi'. ​

Milli Vallance