On the Monday evening during my stay in Stratford I managed to get tickets for the RSC’s production of The Duchess of Malfi in the Swan Theatre. There were no performances of the current show in the main theatre (Macbeth, with Christopher Ecclestone) that week but I wasn’t disappointed as I had an enjoyable evening along with an Australian friend who was over for the conference.
The Swan is, like the Globe on the Southbank in London, a recreation of an Elizabethan / Jacobean theatre. In this case it’s u-shaped with a “thrust stage” surrounded on 3 sides, with stalls and two galleries.
The play was is a Jacobean tragedy by English dramatist John Webster and was written in in 1612/13. The blurb on the RSC’s website summed up the plot
A defiant woman is destroyed by her corrupt brothers in this violent revenge tragedy, full of dark humour.
The production had some modern twists – modern dress, gymnastic dancing and some modern songs and started with the lead actress, Joan Iyiola, dragging a large animal carcass on to the stage. It stayed there, but it’s significance only became apparent in the second half.
Joan Iyiola was a powerful and very sexy duchess and I thought that Nicolas Tennant as the self serving Bosola was also very good.
After the interval, occupants of the front rows, where the seats are below stage level, were given blankets to cover their clothing and shoes. The reason became apparent early in the second half when the carcass was cut and began to leak blood – symbolising the brutality of the story where the Duchess’ brothers Ferdinand and the Cardinal, have their sister murdered for marrying outside her class
By the end of the play the whole stage was covered with blood. And being a Jacobean tragedy all of the major actors lay dead on the floor, drenched with the red liquid.