Devilry misses a trick

15 February 2008

The White Devil, ADC Theatre, 12-16 Feb, 19:45

3 Stars

Reviewer Edward Rowett

Webster’s tragedy is crueller, darker and more seductive than any of Shakespeare’s“. So read the displays in the foyer, and thus before you even take your seat you get the sense that The White Devil has its sights set high, setting itself up as the darker, sexier side of Elizabethan drama. It’s an ambitious claim, and indeed the play certainly has all the ingredients of an intoxicatingly dark cocktail: lust, revenge, and some of the most outlandish murder methods you’ll ever see on stage.

The first thing that strikes you about the production is that it looks and sounds spectacular. The ADC has been transformed, with a black and white marble floor covering the entire stage, and an exquisite chandelier overhanging proceedings. The costumes are also stunning; while they do not betray a specific period, they give the production an ornate sense of otherness.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a string trio beautifully sets the mood and scores the action. These are not just fancy touches, however, but are integral to the effect of the play; the chess board floor is an excellent device, director Amy Gwilliam adding a striking prologue in which the characters silently and ominously stalk each other round the board.

Unfortunately the action on stage is never quite a match for its setting; the production instead moving at one rather pedestrian pace. The action is frustratingly static, with the actors often rooted to the ground throughout long dense speeches. The characters are loving and killing each other like there’s no tomorrow (for most of them, there isn’t) but there is rarely a sense of excitement in their actions, their lust and hatred seeming disappointingly routine. Even Flamineo, the catalyst for much of the action and the audience’s guide through the tangled plot, cannot quite supply the spark needed. Alex Guelff’s performance is one of ruthless cunning, but misses the sense of devilish glee as Flamineo tries to keep all his plates spinning.

There are several strong performances, notably Ollie Evans as Brachiano, whose soft spoken charm effectively belies the horrors he is capable of, and Finn Beames’ foppish Camillo, who helps brings the early scenes alive, and whose presence is sorely missed later on. Such performances, combined with the opulence of the production and the darkness of the story, do certainly make for an entertaining evening, but The White Devil remains a show easier to appreciate than to emotionally invest in.