The White Devil

Tue 9th – Sat 13th February 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 23:42 on 9th Feb 2016

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Sex! Violence! Religion! Money! You must be interested in at least one of those things. The White Devil has them all, bucketfuls of them. This goriest and bleakest of renaissance tragedies is chock-full of secret affairs, power struggles, scorching arguments and bloody murders. Director and cast pulled all of it off wonderfully, keeping the whole thing just on the right side of melodrama, and throwing in the occasional joke, too. You'll laugh, you'll shudder, you might be sick, but you'll have a great time.

The play itself is totally enthralling kind of in the same way that it's hard to resist looking when you see roadkill - you know it's gory and gross and you sort of want to not look but at the same time you HAVE to. As things go from bad to worse, and everyone onstage gets more desperate and more crazy, Webster's over-the-top monologues carried the audience in a crescendo towards the climax. This was particularly effective in Isabella's (Alice Carlill) furious monologue detailing all the things she wants to do to her husband's mistress, and Monticelso's (Joe Spence) highly detailed, slightly unhinged response to a request that he define the term 'whore'.

Webster's language is dense, intricate and hard to carry off, but the cast did a magnificent job, only occasionally stumbling, and generally delivering wonderfully natural, passionate performances. Beth Dubow was formidable as Vittoria, magnificently pulling off her initial garish seductiveness, her defiance and sassiness, and then finally her sadness and fear as everything unravels. Ryan Monk too was magnificent as her brother Flamineo, a sharp-tongued, ruthlessly ambitious courtier, ready to do anything and betray anyone, until he too begins to succumb to the darkness of the play's ending. Unexpectedly delightful performances too came from David Ruttle, first as a highly questionable doctor with a terrible bedside manner, and then later as an elitist lawyer who pranced about the stage telling everyone that they were stupid if they didn't know Latin, or their rhetoric.

The decision to stage all of the (many, many) murders realistically and viscerally was risky, but really paid off. Smears, splashes and sprays of stage blood abounded, bringing a shocking quality to the deaths which was in excellent keeping with the goriness of Webster's writing. The cast worked extra hard to make these effects work technically, but also to make sure the audience bought them. This was admirably achieved, and the surprise and horror elicited were real. Titters from the audience, which are a risk with scenes like these, only occurred once, and this was not the fault of the actors or the director, but a prop issue which will no doubt be sorted for subsequent performances.

The White Devil, in spite of a couple of first-night fluffed lines and a small prop hiccough, is a triumph. It had the audience jumping and gasping and gagging in horror/ disgust in all the right places. If you're not the squeamish type, book in immediately. If you are, go anyway. This is the perfect opportunity to toughen up.

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