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Story last updated: 20 Feb 2004 1031 GMT Printable version of this page
Soap opera - 17th century style
Brachiano, Vittoria and Flamineo in 'The White Devil'
by Bryony Jones
BBC Bristol website reporter

:: The White Devil

:: Redgrave Theatre

:: Until 28 February 2004

A happy moment - before the bloodbath begins...

Illicit love, betrayal, revenge and murder... it's all here.

John Webster's Jacobean tragedy plays like a particularly bloodthirsty 17th century soap opera.

It is brimming with so many poisonings, stabbings, shootings, stranglings and other assorted nastiness that by the end of this three-hour epic, the stage is running with imagined blood and gore.

Thankfully director Robert Hamlin and crew decided against using coloured sugar water or any other fakery to recreate this (I don't think my stomach could have coped with it) - but still, the mind is a powerful tool.

The action, originally based in Renaissance Italy, has been moved to 1930s-era Hollywood in this production by the final year students of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Scheming villain

The costume designers clearly had fun with gangster-style hourglass suits, drop-waisted dresses and pageboy hairstyles (though the monk disguises used by Lodovico and Gasparo later in the play jar somewhat with the American setting).

The set, an art deco, geometrically-patterned room with marble-effect floor and walls, screens and occasional music (including the rousing rendition of Old Devil Moon with which the play opens) complete the look and feel of the era.

Lodovico and Vittoria in Webster's 'The White Devil'
Lodovico vows to avenge the murder of Isabella, who he had loved secretly

John-James Cawood puts in an assured turn as Flamineo, the swaggering, scheming villain of the piece, pimping his sister to further his own ambitious ends.

Like almost everyone else in the cast, he meets a sticky end - his is surely the most drawn-out death, but thankfully Cawood avoids any temptation to ham it up.

Vittoria, the 'notorious strumpet' who is tried and imprisoned for the murder of her husband Camillo (despite the lack of evidence) is played with confidence and panache by Lindsay York-Jones.

Her character is by turns victim, heroine and villainess, but York-Jones fits each role comfortably.

Adam Stone gives the Duke of Brachiano a slightly sleazy tone - his oiled hair and pencil moustache adding to the illusion.

Future stars

The main characters are aided by a strong supporting cast - special mentions for Adam Stone as the slightly sad but misguided Count Lodovico, and Bruce McNeal as a suitably slimy Cardinal Monticelso.

Samantha Lawson, as Vittoria's Moorish servant Zanche impresses, as does Ian Bonar in the role of Giovanni - one of the few characters left standing when the curtain falls.

My only criticism (and to be honest this is of the play itself rather than the production) is that it feels a little over-long.

Given the harrowing nature of much of the action, some theatre-goers may emerge feeling as though they have been through the wars somewhat.

All in all, the Old Vic students have put on an impressive show. It should appeal particularly to Quentin Tarantino fans looking for something with a bit more history - or to anyone looking to spot some of the potential stars of the future.


The Redgrave Theatre

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