The White Devil

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John Webster's second best-known play is seldom staged these days and there is reason to be grateful to Loose Canon for bringing this tale of rollicking revenge to us before the millennium has turned. Jason Byrne has directed with commendable clarity a tale so convoluted in its murderous conspiracies that to miss three exchanges of dialogue is to risk missing either an entire subplot or the identity and relationships of a significant conspirator.

The problem that gets in the way of rapt attention is that none of the characters in the piece like themselves, each other, their families or their "friends". There is no character in which to invest any kind of sympathy, no icon to support consistently through all the gore, no identifiable hero or heroine to cheer to any kind of vindication. The only possibility of keeping the audience even close to enthralment is the sheer theatricality and artifice of the play and its performance, and both director and actors do pretty well with, for the most part, a cracking pace and occasional sly comedic touches which let people know that this is not to be taken entirely seriously.

Andrew Bennett's Francisco is outstanding: here the Duke of Florence has a gravitas that befits his "noble" station and, as the corpses fall around him, an elfin sense of humour which gives recognition to the idiocy of an evil world. Phelim Drew clung by metaphorical fingernails last night to Flamineo's lines, but will become both more malevolent and more comical when he gets a tighter grip on his text. Michael McElhatton is utterly in command of the venomous Duke Brachiano, who divorces his wife (Una Kavanagh) just before she is murdered. Natalie Stringer's Vittoria, the font from which much of the evil flows, is stridently and provocatively good when on trial as a scarlet woman, although a mite innocuous the rest of the time. The ensemble is good and will get better, and there are some nice comic cameos from Karl Quinn as Vittoria's husband and his own mother-in-law, and from David Pearse as various rogues, doctors and lawyers. Eugene O'Brien is in nice decay as the vengefully languishing Count Lodovico, Ned Dennehy perfectly insincere as the cardinal going on to Pope, and Eithne Woodcock is sound as Vittoria's venal maid and Brachiano's young son (about the only one left standing at the end of the night). Well worth seeing as long as you keep following the plots.

Until February 13th. Telephone booking: 1850 260027.

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