A vivid victim still
The very walls seem to whisper in director Philip Franks' sinister court. Juliet Stevenson's vivid, passionate Duchess is a prisoner of its conventions and a prey to the viciousness of her brothers. Ferdinand (Simon Russell Beale) is unhinged by his possessive desire for his sister; the Cardinal (Robert Demeger) is unrelentingly evil - lustful, greedy and scheming. Russell Beale gives a convincing portrait of a man unhinged, a slave to his desires. Demeger makes a crude manipulator but he misses the craftiness of a prelate capable of playing a role in public at odds with his true nature. His realistic buggering of Julia is surely more than is required by the text; she is more than half way to being a willing victim and is making arch conversation within seconds of the rape.
Robert Glenister's Bosola, cynical and morally confused, amply demonstrates the strength of this society's grip on the most wayward character.
Stevenson's rendering of the famous line just before her death, "I am Duchess of Malfi still" has been criticised for not expressing her defiant dignity. But here she is sadly resigned to a role from whose obligations she cannot escape, made the more poignant by the tenderness of her love for her forbidden husband Antonio, touchingly played by Joe Dixon.
The bloodiness, the cruelty of Jacobean tragedy are not shirked - to the extent that there are unfortunately risible moments.
Running time three hours10 minutes. To March 18. Tickets: 081 858 7755