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Review: The White Devil, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

16 February, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Kate Stanley-Brennan as Vittoria and Joseph Timms as Flamineo in The White Devil

WITHIN minutes of the start of John Webster’s play you know it’s about plots, murder and sex.

The dark conniving and spilt blood fit the shadows of the Wanamaker Playhouse but this Jacobean revenge tragedy is also very funny. Heavy cuts give Annie Ryan’s production a comfortable playing time and make a complex plot easy to follow.

It moves rapidly, actors leaping onto the stage from the audience. Candle lighting and snuffing at scene ends might give time for a moment’s reflection if you weren’t so eager to find out what happens next.

The Duke of Bracciano is infatuated with ex-courtesan Vittoria, married sister of his employee Flamineo. With their connivance he plans the murder of her husband and his own wife.

Joseph Timms’ Flamineo seems to be everywhere. Jamie Ballard is a cold Bracciano and Gary Cooper a two-faced Cardinal Monticelso, pseudo-pious while planning poisoning. Flamineo’s mother Cornelia (Anna Healey) seems to be the only character not a baddie.

Though set in Rome, the original text has a lot of contemporary London references, but Jamie Vartan’s design avoids any specific period, even changing the style of the playhouse’s usual chandeliers.

But does this fictional world have its modern parallels? At least its built-in misogyny is avoided in the company’s casting.

With cross-gender casting Ryan has successfully achieved a 50:50 gender balance.

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