One of the best presents I was given last Christmas was tickets to the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (next to Shakespeare's Globe) which opened on January 9th 2014, to see the theatre's first ever production, The Duchess Of Malfi, by John Webster, directed by Dominic Dromgoole.
The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was built to resemble the first ever indoor theatres of the Jacobean era and the building plans were based on an original drawing of the time by Inigo Jones. As soon as my good friend Lauren and I walked into the theatre you could smell the newness of the wood and the atmosphere was set with periodic music played with lutes and violins on the balcony above the stage. The music that accompanied the play was played live by a quartet of musicians in period dress and the whole production was lit by candlelight as it would have been when The Duchess Of Malfi was first staged. The fact that the actors were essentially their own lighting technicians also enabled them to use the light to their advantage by placing the candle in a specific place to highlight their face for a particular moment, whether is was to accentuate the fear they felt of the evil they were projecting.
|The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse |
It has to be said that the ensemble of actors chosen for the roles were all remarkable and were so captivating throughout the entirety of the play. A special mention must go to Gemma Arterton, (who's credits include Quantom of Solace, St. Trinians and Prince Of Persia) who played the lead role of the Duchess of Malfi. Arterton portrayed the Duchess with a lot grace, which was later then converted into great strength that fuelled her resistance against her villainous brothers, Ferdinand (David Dawson) and the Cardinal (James Garnon). David Dawson, for me, was the most captivating actor on stage by far. In Act 1, he intrigues the audience by exposing a little light comedy within the character of Ferdinand so that when he vows to torment his sister, and the reality of his character is exposed, the audience becomes a lot more shocked by his actions. Especially through his decent into madness, Dawson used his incredible talent to make the audience feel uncomfortable and disturbed by the crazed Duke before them. I would give anything to even have a shred of talent that David Dawson has.
All in all it was a very authentic Jacobean theatre experience (apart from the very modern and up to date lavatory facilities that is) and I would recommend it to anyone interested in theatre, history or literature. It was such a good production and I can't wait to see many more at the playhouse! (Is it obvious that I'm a bit of a drama geek?)
I give it a 5 apple rating!