Pitched against a marbled revolving backdrop, this production of Thomas Middleton’s play gets off to an unfortunate start as the fire alarm requires everyone to evacuate the building.
Consequently the first act is a rather wooden affair as the actors have been standing outside in the cold too long and are unable to do their usual pre-performance preparation. But we all soon warm up and gradually a story of deceit, lust and envy unravels itself before us, brilliantly directed by Laurence Boswell who received critical acclaim for his production of The Dog in a Manager and Hecuba. Penelope Wilton is the meddling widow Livia, weaving a web of lies to catch her prey. Wilton effortlessly brings her part to life with both clarity and humour, demonstrating a boundless and genuine understanding of the role, which creates chaos and confusion in all directions.
Tim Pigott-Smith is excellent as the lusty Duke of Florence who with the help of the obliging Livia clumsily seduces the beautiful Bianca played with grace and unaffected innocence by Hayley Atwell. Poor Leantio the cuckolded husband of Bianca played by Elliot Cowan struggles to recapture his true love but is in turn seduced by the man eating Livia.
There is an interesting sub plot with Emma Cunniffe as Isabella and her depraved Uncle Hippolito played by the dashing Rob Edwards. It all ends disastrously as you can imagine in the true spirit of this the last in the series of Jacobean plays at the RSC.
RSC, Stratford upon Avon, February 16-April 1
- Thomas Middleton
- Laurence Boswell
- Royal Shakespeare Company
- Penelope Wilton, Tim Pigott-Smith, Hayley Atwell, Emma Cunniffe, Jonathan Bex, Elliot Cowan
- Running time
- 2hrs 30mins