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Review: ShakeSoc’s The Duchess of Malfi

Webster’s timeless tragedy is one that not many remember to this day (unless you are a keen theatre enthusiast), yet it is quite a show. The University’s Shakespeare Society in fact had recently performed it on campus after this project was picked up in September but did not seem to come to fruition. And finally, on 25th of February, the students saw the play come to life on stage in the humble abode of the M&D of Devonshire House. Now, an interesting fact about this play – according to the director (Bethia Atkinson) – is that it was staged “after 34 hours of rehearsals over two days”. So has the director’s vision been realised in this production? Let us see…

Image can be found here.

The Good

The actors chosen for the roles were excellent. The portrayal of their characters was what you would envision when reading Webster’s text. Although there were very few (partically no) instances of ad lib and forgetting of lines, the fact that the play was rehearsed in such a short amount of time would excuse them, I believe. The modern twist only applied to the costumes, yet it created some comic relief for the audience. It was also an interesting addition at the start of the play to relate the central themes of the play regarding the fear of women in power to modern history.

The not so good- Is it the “Duchess of Malfi still”?

On the negative side, there were a few crucial parts that were cut out from the play. This does happen in productions, although not so much in plays. The choice of these scenes was also quite confusing, since it had made the motivation of Bosola’s character quite obscure. When asking someone who did not read the play prior to seeing it, the guess was “because he felt bad?”. Close, yet not quite true. Also, although the play is known as a tragedy, the last scene of the many character’s deaths is somewhat comic due to the ridiculousness of the situation, the play adapted it more towards the tragedy.

Yet despite even this small annoyance (at least to me), the play was overall a success as indicated by the positive cheering at the end of the performance. And I would have to agree with them – the actors and the director put in a lot of effort into this and it definitely showed!

Thumbnail image can be found here.

4th year English student, who just loves to read a little too much. And has a mild obsession with Japan.
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