Egged on by his servant Flamineo, Duke Bracciano orders the murder of his own wife and his lover Vittoria's husband. It is the sexually-liberated Vittoria who, of course, is burden with the blame. An insatiable cycle of jealously, violence and betrayal ensues, fuelled with poison and pistols: lover denounce each other then forgive, brother murders brother, a duke disguises as a Moor and the stage ends up loaded with bodies.
There's all the blood, sex and scandal we expect from revenge tragedy, along with innumerable uses of the words 'strumpet' and 'devil' and an excess of twists to keep audiences on their toes (or more likely, scratching their heads).
The challenge then, as Ryan directs a new production at The Globe's candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, is to clarify this convolution and re-frame the drama for a post-Brexit, post-Trump world.
While the play's shallow characterisation and fickle twists somewhat limits the substance, the production works to balance this out with style. With a murky, vampish semi-modern aesthetic of leather and corsets and sparing use of the chandeliers, it's steeped in atmosphere.
Animated performances from the charming, devilish Joseph Timms as Flamineo and a compelling Kate Stanley-Brannan as Vittoria help skim through confusing motivations and moments of weighty dialogue to emphasise the satirical clout.
The misogyny and racism rippling deep through Webster's text is left exposed. Tonally the violence begins as kitsch spectacle and moves towards something more brutal. Without compromising the inescapably Restoration Period roots of the play, Annie Ryan ensures the alignment between the reprehensible acts on stage and currently morally questionable world leaders lurks in the shadows.
|What||The White Devil, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review|
Sam Wanamaker Theatre
21 New Globe Walk, London, SE1 9DT | MAP
|Nearest tube||Blackfriars (underground)|
26 Jan 17 – 16 Apr 17, 7:30 PM – 10:20 PM
|Price||£10 - £62|
|Website||Click here for more information|