The Duke in Darkness review at Tabard London
A claustrophobic psychological thriller set in 16th century France, Patrick Hamilton’s The Duke in Darkness never achieved the success of his earlier plays, Rope and Gaslight, and has been rarely performed since the original 1942 production, directed by and starring Michael Redgrave.
Newly adapted by Orlando Wells, the play emerges in Phoebe Barran’s admirably taut staging as much more than a historical curio. The setting is a tower prison in which the Duke of Laterraine (Michael Palmer) has been incarcerated for 15 years alongside his faithful servant Gribaud (Jamie Treacher), a victim of the era’s wars of religion and of rival aristocrat Lamorre (a supercilious Martin Miller).
Throughout his imprisonment, the Duke has survived on fantasies of escape, feigning blindness in an attempt to get his captors to lower their guard, but when the opportunity finally arises it can only be seized at great personal cost. When originally staged, the play’s conflict between persecuted Huguenots and Catholic absolutism, and its themes of resistance to tyranny, loyalty and sacrifice, clearly resonated with the contemporary struggle against fascism. Those ideas continue to resound, but Wells’ adaptation casts new light on the Duke and Gribaud’s ambivalent intimacy. Both roles are incredibly demanding but Palmer and Treacher valiantly rise to the challenge. Palmer makes the Duke’s moral choices gripping and moving, while Treacher brings off Gribaud’s descent into madness with touching humour.
Tabard, London, April 16-May 11
- Patrick Hamilton, Orlando Wells (adaptation)
- Phoebe Barran
- Lliana Bird, Mark Perry
- Michael Palmer, Jamie Treacher, Jake Mann, Matthew Fraser-Holland, Martin Miller, Sean Pogmore
- Running time