Francesco Cenci Has Got To Frances-Go


Let me start off by saying Count Cenci is one of the most despicable people I've ever come to know. 

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Who is Count Cenci? What is his story? 

I can't get into that without some spoilers. 

The Cenci, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, tells the tale of young Beatrice Cenci and her struggle to free herself from her abusive father, Count Francesco Cenci. There is a content warning for mentions of rape and incest. 

I got to see a performance of the show that was put on by English 2041F, a course that combines in-class learning and theatrical performance. Run by director Jo Devereux, the course has done performances such as Macbeth and Dido, Queen of Carthage in recent years. 

This particular run of the show is double-cast, with two casts alternating throughout the four performances. I was lucky enough to witness Thursday’s show, showcasing the talent of the Nawton cast, who will also be performing Saturday night.

The show gets off to a bit of a rocky start, with Cardinal Camillo (Aaron Williams) and Count Cenci (Nawton Chiles) over-enunciating almost every line. However as the play progresses, the two soon find their footing. The first appearance of Cenci’s family awakens Chiles in particular. It is here that Cenci moves from an apparent caricature of evil to a truly wicked and abusive figure. This is particularly evident in the banquet scene, when Cenci praises God for the death of his sons. In the face of the defiance of Cenci’s daughter Beatrice, Chiles comes alive like a rogue lightning strike; it is in these interactions with his daughter and wife that he is cruelly poignant. 

Despite a run time of approximately two hours, the show doesn't drag on. The energy of the cast carries the time away with the same urgency the characters use to fulfil their vengeful plots. 

The show is especially swept away by the moving performances of Beatrice (Sarah From) and her stepmother Lucretia (Jane Jia Yin Li). The relationship between mother and daughter is captivating and overflowing with emotion as they cling to each other in the face of Cenci’s wrath. In particular, From shines in her character’s torment; after Beatrice’s offstage rape, From’s portrayal of a panic attack is painfully believable. 

Also notable is Francesca De Noble’s effortless portrayal of Orsino; equally charismatic and despicable, her performance is one of the highlights of the show. 

Director Jo Devereux says that they chose to set their production in the 1950s to “emphasize the persistence of the issues raised by the play.” Though the costuming suited this well, the play didn't feel modernized at all; the use of props such as lanterns combined with the play’s verse to evoke the feeling of a much older time. It must be noted, however, that this didn’t stand in the way of uniting the audience with Beatrice and her struggle. Despite watching her efforts get beaten back time and time again, I couldn’t stop myself from rooting for her, wanting to stab Cenci myself. 

One moment steals the show entirely. While awaiting their execution in a Roman cell, Beatrice lulls her family to sleep. From’s eerie singing fills the theatre, transforming the intimate room into a hopeless space that feels tangibly cold, damp and hollow. The mere act of watching the three coconspirers becomes an intrusion. Incredibly haunting, that moment alone is worth the price of admission. 

The Cenci runs from December 4-7 at the TAP Centre for Creativity. Shows start at 7:30, and tickets can be purchased at the event, or on the TAP Centre website. Tickets are $10 for students and seniors and $15 for adults. For more information about The Cenci, check out their Facebook and Instagram pages. 

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