This was my first visit to the wonderful Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the reconstructed 17th century style theatre squeezed into the foyer of the Globe on London’s South Bank and with a capacity of 340 it is an intimate space where the audience feels part of the performance. The candlelight auditorium and stage creates an atmospheric environment which intensifies the experience and the drama.
John Webster’s dark tale of The White Devil, based on real events from the 1580’s,is re-envisaged here by Annie Ryan in a future dystopian time where in these families the corruption , lust and random killing is a way of life! With a stripped back setting, using the candles to set scenes and with no stage furniture it is the twelve cast members (6 male, 6 female) who must drive the story using Webster’s language to engage the audience . This they do with great skill and clarity creating logic to the madness of killings and treachery.
While this is a story of a male dominated society it is Vittoria, played beautifully by Kate Stanley- Brennan , who created the most sympathetic character as she is pursued by the Duke of Bracciano (played Jamie Ballard) , tried for murder and placed in a house for fallen women. She is matched by RADA graduate, Joseph Timms as Flamineo (who works for Bracciano) who struts the stage with a cockney charm (reminiscent of Russell Brand) and brings the audience into his plotting. The most dramatic scene where Vittoria shows her spirit and resolve is her trial where see off one pompous lawyer and challenges Monticelso (played by Gary Cooper) with withering logic. She is sexy and chaste at the same time. She is dignified and righteous while being a double crosser and willing adulterer.
The use of candle light both adds and detracts from the production. The use of 6 chandeliers to provide general lighting at various heights, side stage candle sconces to illuminate the stage, and freestanding and hand held candle sticks to provide uplight to the performers faces adds to the drama and sense of the playbut at times the stage crew setting or snuffing out candles is a distraction and slows the pace.
The music too adds to the drama with a simple violin, accordion and cello under the direction of Stephen Bentley-Klein gently and eerily underscoring the action from the gallery above the stage.
In the wrong setting, with weak direction and poor actors this play could fail to connect with the audience but here in this wonderful period setting with sharp direction and an experienced and talented cast it is a delight to watch as the pace and body count whisks us to an inevitable conclusion.
Reviewed by Nick Wayne