Review: The White Devil

By John Nathan, October 17, 2008

Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1

The Chocolate Factory specialises in reviving musicals, (Sondheim's A Little Night Music is next), so with this resurrection of Webster's Jacobean revenge tragedy it is branching out.

At the end of this admirably fast-moving production a lone caretaker walks on to the Chocolate Factory's traverse stage and casually mops up the blood.

Mopping blood is always poignant. It suggests that the brutality just witnessed is not particular to the evening's events - in this case the real-life adultery and corruption in Italy's 16th-century court that inspired John Webster to write his play - but part of the human condition, a point highlighted by director Jonathan Munby's decision to opt for a modern-dress production.

Yet despite all the stabbing, shooting, strangling and poisoning - staged with an ambition that is typical of this venue - the pool of blood seems rather small compared to some of the unrestrained performances here. Nitzan Sharron's Marcello is all (very) camp conspiracy as he slyly organises the affair between his married siren sister Vittoria (Claire Price) and Darrell D'Silva's callous Duke Brachiano. This is the affair that leads to a trail of murder, much of it carried out on the Duke's behalf and which he witnesses through visions conjured by his doctor's gas mask and hypodermic.

But despite Claire Cox's dignified performance as Brachiano's poisoned wife Isabella, the evening is characterised more by Dylan Charles's black-clad hit-man Count Lodovico, who would have been more sinister with less sneering.

What I missed here was the heartlessness that so informed Melly Still's recent National Theatre production of The Revenger's Tragedy, where killing was as common as currency. Still, the evening is not without its rewards, even if there is the sense that the Chocolate Factory will be on home ground when they return to Sondheim. (Tel: 020 7907 7060)

Last updated: 11:16am, October 16 2008