Review: Duchess of Malfi, Bury Theatre Workshop, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, until Saturday, January 30

The Duchess of Malfi, which is at the Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds,this week.

The Duchess of Malfi, which is at the Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds,this week. - Credit: Archant

Brotherly love is not something that is high on the list of priorities for one disfunctional and hateful family in this latest offering by the Bury Theatre Workshop.

There is mayhem, murder, love, lust and treachery in ample supply as the macabre story by playwright John Webster unfolds.

It’s a riveting tale, wonderfully portrayed by the excellent cast in a play that has been given a bit of a 21st century twist by way of some quirky costume changes ... not least the guards at the Duchess’s palace in Malfi who at times resemble a scene from The Blues Brothers.

Not very much is known about Webster, except that he was a young contemporary of Shakespeare towards the end of the Bard’s life and that he would have been influenced by his work.

In particular, he would have liked stories in which life was cheap because Webster’s own plays are full of macabre, bloody happenings. This is especially true of The Duchess of Malfi in which the body count is quite spectacular.

Written in 1612, it is all the more remarkable because it is based on true events in Italy a century earlier.

The language is sometimes difficult to follow but the plotting and planning by the Duchess’s brothers Duke Ferdinand and the Cardinal is clear for all to see.

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The three characters, portrayed by Megan Reynard, Mark Robinson and David Cobbledick, along with Adam Thurkettle, who takes on the role of paid assassin Daniel de Bosola, take much of the plaudits, especially Robinson as Ferdinand loses his mind and is afflicted with lycanthropia, or the belief he is a wolf.

There’s great support from Harry Cowper, as Delio; Hugh Weller-Poley, as Antonio; Sarah Kopferschmitt, as Cariola; and Nemonee Stone, as Julia.

And there is one final glimmer of hope in this sad tale as the Duchess’s eldest son survives the carnage as the couriers promise to raise the boy as a legacy to his mother and his father Antonio.

There is enough material in this play to create a TV soap opera with all the twists and turns in a story ripe with corruption and the misuse of power, cruelty and revenge. And it’s not just greed involved as far as the Duke is concerned because he has incestuous thoughts about his sister.

The play has to be seen to reveal the whole story and continues at the Theatre Royal, tonight, tomorrow and two performances on Saturday.