REVIEW: The White Devil
There will be blood, Daniella Cugini warns – rather a lot of it, actually
“As flowers and weeds spring when the sun is warm,
So great men do great good, or else great harm.”
I was really looking forward to this play: I studied The White Devil last year and saw a striking production at the Royal Shakespeare Company, so was excited to see what the ADC made of it. Overall this production is ambitious and mostly pulls it off, handling the intricate script and 17th-century language with verve and skill.
The White Devil is rich, dense and dark (which makes it sound like some sort of Gü dessert, but bear with me), and tells the story of a group of malcontents, out to attain and maintain power no matter what the cost. After years in poverty, Flamineo will do anything for a price while his sister Vittoria has a core of steel under her pearls and silk. When the Duke Brachiano takes an interest in Vittoria, the siblings entangle themselves in a web of murder, deceit and infidelity, where priests consort with devils, honour is destroyed, and vengeance is exacted in a horrifying flourish.
The characters in the ADC’s rendition stand on a bleak, bare stage, watched over by a large cross and two monuments lurking in the back like watchtowers. Everything about the design screams ‘ominous’, particularly the clever black/white costuming (the only shred of colour lying in the distraught Cornelia’s headscarf). At the high points of this production, you may forget to breathe.
I was intrigued to hear that this interpretation was setting the play in Stalinist Russia, but, apart from a few changed lines and some incongruous accordion music during the set changes, not much is done with this premise. Of course, it suits the barbarity of the characters, but so does the original Venice. Nevertheless, there are some truly fantastic aspects to the play that brought out all the vividness of the script.
All the performances were at the very least clean and proficient, but some dazzled. Beth Dubow‘s wonderful Vittoria is sensual, dangerous and alight, particularly during the trial scene, perhaps the most well-done scene in the entire play. Seth Kruger‘s Lodovico has a touch of pure, breathtaking malice that some other characters lack, and both Flamineo (Ryan Monk) and Brachiano (Tom Chamberlain) give arresting portrayals of two very difficult, subtle characters that oscillate between clarity and madness. The chemistry of the cast is impeccable, particularly between Brachiano and Vittoria: when they’re together, you can’t take your eyes off them.
Certain aspects, however, troubled me a little more. I liked Adam Mirsky‘s proficient and pragmatic Francisco, but I think he lacked some of the darkness and intensity that would have explained his character’s actions better; the same, at times, applies to Flamineo.
I also appreciate that the script needs to be condensed in places, but one of the death scenes was condensed to such an extent that it seemed like they were purposely rushing it and it lost some of its power. There’s also a certain scene about a skull underneath flowers that amounted to a handful of dirt being chucked on the stage and a skull held up in a way that I found a little too comic. As for the bed…let’s just say I hope they find a more durable one for tonight.
The White Devil could have been brilliant; as it is, it’s good with some flashes of brilliance. If you feel like being introduced to the fantastical and bloodthirsty world of revenge tragedy, or just like to see a well-acted and well-put-together ADC main show, The White Devil is a must-see. If you like happy endings…maybe stay in and watch a movie instead.