MURDER IN THE DARK
The gorgeous giltwood brooding atmosphere of the new Wanamaker playhouse has seen comedy in its candlelight – the bonkers Knight of the Burning Pestle – and opera , and recitation. But it comes best into its own with these darkly morbid , claustrophobic Jacobean dramas. Closed in, the theatre itself becomes a crucible of menace. Illuminated only by the great rising and falling chandeliers, or by candelabras held by actors whose uplit livid faces flicker with murderous hatred or tardy remorse, you are trapped in the box with them and their darkness. You cam laugh at the jokes – and these Jacobo-nasties have plenty of foolery in between the murders – but you laugh hollowly: stimulated, fearful. Dominic Dromgoole, always supertuned to the way the physical form of his theatres affects the mood, makes the most of this.
Webster’s Duchess of Malfi last year was a triumph here, but that has the advantage of a a shiningly good, sane central heroine to point up the wickedness of her enemies. The Changeling – by Middleton and Rowley – is trickier, its heroine dodgy. Beatrice-Joanna elicits a trickle of sympathy with her initial bewailing of an arranged marriage, but her contemptuous rudeness to ugly, clever de Flores is followed by her enlisting him to kill the unwanted fiancé and offering a derisory payment. Whereon he insists that what he wants is her virginity. I have seen deFlores played grotesque, sinister, as hideous as the words she describes him in: but there is real bite in Trystan Gravelle’s bluff, unexceptionable appearance (despite some kind of rash) and his downright workmanlike approach to murder and rape. As for that famous line where he takes her glove to “thrust my fingers into her sockets”…eugggghhh.
As Beatrice-Joanna, a “woman drenched in blood who speaks of honour” Hattie Morahan is as good as ever: her fragility and subtlety move from petulance to panic, by way of a hinted horrid attraction to de Flores, and at last to a genuinely pitiful tragic understanding of how arrogance led to blood, deceit, arson and another murder. Whose victim, the maid Diaphanta, is brilliantly pitched to contrast with her mistress: Thalissa Teixeira is lusty, lively, innocently sexual in a way her aristocratic lady is not; she has no dark side. Her testing of the virginity-test her mistress fears is hilarious (theres some real comic 17c flapdoodle about an apothecary’s.secret potions which makes you realize how self-denying Shakespeare was, not using magic bottles all the time) .
But a bigger problem with the play – in one brief production lately dispensed with entirely – is the subplot: set in a lunatic asylum, the inmates treated as bestial entertainment. Isabella (Sarah MacRae) is kept captive by her jealous old husband, and sought by two suitors who disguise themselves as madmen : Adam Lawrence violently so, Brian Ferguson more verbal. Pearce Quigley, what a treasure, is the awful warder Lollio, managing to be both funny and revolting. And Dromgoole brings out all the parallels between this squalid place and the court, especially in the women’s captivity.
It’s a hard one to hold together, but by the final “And now we are in hell”, the full Jacobean horror has been achieved. Brrr.
box office 020 7902 1400 to 1 March