The Theatreguide.London Review
a programme note arguing that Thomas Middleton ranks with his
contemporary Shakespeare is not particularly convincing, Marianne
Elliott's sharp and stylish production of his 1621 drama proves a
thoroughly entertaining high-class soap opera, a Dynasty or Dallas set
in Borgia-era Italy, complete with family secrets, lecherous men,
seducible women and a delightfully wicked witch.
better be titled Women Beware Woman, since the guiding, if not driving
force behind most of the plots and counterplots is the rich widow
played with verve by Harriet Walter.
cleverness and wiles, and more out of enjoyment of the game than any
other motive, it is she who helps her brother seduce their niece (by
convincing the girl she's a bastard and thus not really related), who
helps a randy Duke get his hands on the young bride next door (by
flattering and distracting her mother-in-law), and who falls in lust at
first sight with that bride's groom and does all she can to comfort
worst that can
be said against most of the other characters is that once they step
over the line into sin they continue enthusiastically, satisfying not
only their sexual appetites but their enmities and jealousies.
the end of the
play they're all plotting against someone they resent, and the play
ends with a phantasmagorical party at which everybody murders everybody
else, leaving the stage more corpse-strewn than Hamlet.
and designer Lez Brotherston have set the play in the 1950s, perhaps to
evoke La Dolce Vita Italy, and the actors are particularly successful
in making the 17th-century verse sound natural and conversational.
especially well-directed and well-played opening scene in which Samuel
Barnett as the young groom introduces his bride to Tilly Tremayne
playing his mother is so totally homey and natural that our ears
quickly attune to the verse and occasional archaisms, so that we hardly
notice them through the rest of the play.
Walter's bitch-you-love-to-hate, Tilly Tremayne's not-a-clue sweet old
dear and Samuel Barnett's born victim, Lauren O'Neil (bride) and
Vanessa Kirby (niece) offer two not-unsympathetic portraits of
too-easily corrupted women.
as in modern
TV, the key to successful soap opera lies in never admitting that it's
all tosh, and the entire cast's commitment to the reality of this
glossy fiction, along with the high style of the production, carries
one, except possibly for the programme note writer, could argue that
this is high tragedy, but it is good dirty fun.
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Women Beware Women - National Theatre 2010