The Duchess of Malfi @ The Fleeting Arms Review

Six Lips aim to re-imagine the Jacobean play The Duchess of Malfi with a fashionable new approach. The staging of the play as a catwalk presents a monochromatic style with ease, and the choice to place the cast within the modern world of tabloid journalism and superficial attitudes is an ambitious one. Whilst this does pay off in some instances, the media parallels within the narrative do not fully align as intended.

Duchess of Malfi

The cast are well choreographed in their physical movements during the opening sequence, although the fight sequences do feel a little sloppy in contrast to the stylistic canon movements of the cast to open and close the performance. The choice to spread the role of the Duchess across all female performers adds a nice sense of unity to the ensemble, however, there is bound to be a stand-out role with so many performers occupying one role.

Roxanna Klimaszewska‘s Duchess is brilliantly measured, her courtship of Dan Hardy‘s Antonio is tender whilst also perfectly showing her dominance of the action in the first half of the performance. Likewise James Rotchell is an excellently brooding Ferdinand, skulking the stage and showing a terrifying devolution of senses when he becomes a lycanthrope. The tendency among the cast seems to be erring on the side of melodrama, which unfortunately means there are a few instances where the play seems like it might verge on levels of pantomime.

The adaptation remains faithful to Webster’s script, although I would question the inclusion of modern touches within the play. Whilst the walky-talky technology puts across the Cardinal’s power in Malfi quickly and effectively, lines of dialogue are lost due to the technology’s simple lack of audio clarity. The montages of celebrity tabloid and newspaper clippings works nicely to mirror the Duchess’ following and downfall due to rumour, and these sequences work all the better when the ensemble rely on the actual dialogue in the script, as opposed to workshopped lines which fail to really connect with the content of the play.

I must commend the direction on the sequence in which the inmates of the mental asylum are moved to the Duchess’ quarters. The cast lose themselves in the chaos and endless noise of the sequence to form a fully immersive experience for the audience. It is hard to see where one performer leaves off playing the Duchess and transforms into a madman and this loss of clarity is brilliant for creating a downfall of the character. Likewise, the multiple Duchesses are at their strongest when following Ferdinand as the ghost, echoing his dialogue. These stylistic choices are where we see Six Lips at their finest.

The action itself is nicely paced and the ensemble cast work well together, but when the performance is advertised as a re-imagining I would expect more of a distinct separation from the convention context of the Jacobean courts. Instead the visual appearance of the play seems at odds with the action and fluidity of the performance itself. Six Lips has good potential with this production, but overall it still feels like it hasn’t fully integrated its imagery into the direct themes of the script. 3/5

Review written by Louise Jones.

The Duchess of Malfi was shown at the Fleeting Arms from Sunday 15th until Tuesday 17th November.For more information on Six Lips, visit here…

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