The White Devil
RSC Swan Theatre
MASKED wrestlers and nuns dressed in orange rubber were probably not uppermost in John Webster’s mind when he penned his 17th century revenge tragedy.
Director Maria Aberg has re-jigged Webster’s original critique of power and corruption and moral iffiness as part of the RSC’s Roaring Girls season of rarely performed Jacobethan plays.
Aberg dives headlong into her exploration of female identity in a contemporary man’s man’s world of hunger for power and insatiable greed.
It is a big, brash, bloody, and at times very loud production, strongly cast, and visually great fun, but it also leaves one feeling like having been hit repeatedly over the head with a large misogynistic mallet. Ms Aberg takes every opportunity to bang another sexual politics peg into the 400 year-old script, which one can almost hear protesting as another goes in. There’s no disputing Webster’s play lends itself to such an interpretation, but sometimes less is more, and such is the case here.
In the face of the play’s rampant misogyny the women actually argue their case with an intelligence lacking here in the male of the species, but this is a world where women are destined to lose however they choose to play the game.
Vittoria (Kirsty Bushell) is the doomed femme fatale; Isabella (Faye Castelow) a loyal wifely doormat, and Aberg turns Vittoria’s brother into her sister in Flaminio (Laura Elphinstone) – been here before with The Bastard in Aberg’s King John on this very stage – who despite walking the man’s walk and talking the man’s talk, fares no better in the end.
They are all the playthings of men. Even as the sisters look to do it for themselves at the climax, by shooting each other, they end up cheated by wannabe man Flaminio, before then all dying at the hands of men. As if to add insult to injury a young boy then kicks the corpses and a smile breaks out on his face. The vicious circle continues.
The White Devil runs until November 29
Visit www.rsc.org.uk or call the box office on 0844 800 1110 for tickets and further details.
Laura Elphinstone as Flaminio. Photo by Keith Pattison. (s)