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The White Devil - Swan Theatre - RSC Review

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The devil's in the detail for RSC play
Pulsating with raw energy and desire, this modern take on an age-old murderous tale is exciting and gripping from start to end.

Director Maria Aberg masterly adds a touch of eccentricity and glamour to the Jacobean story of adultery and revenge. She even adds subtle changes that align it better with this year's feminist Roaring Girl season of plays at The Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon.

The White Devil1
The White Devil being performed at The Swan Theatre

Written by John Webster - a contemporary of Shakespeare's who also wrote the Duchess of Malfi - this dark, violent tragedy is loosely based on the real-life murder of Italian woman Vittoria Accoramboni in Padua in 1585. It charts her affair with Duke Bracciano, which ultimately leads to her somewhat unfair disgrace by a corrupt court for being far too provocative in a male dominated world.

Although it is the Duke who is intimately involved in the murder of Vittoria's husband and his own wife in rather callous ways, it is Vittoria that the justice system shames in a wonderful court scene that makes the audience feel as though they are part of the action as the paparazzi snap away.

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The White Devil is a play full of passion from Kirsty Bushell as Vittoria

Breathing new life into the tale, Aberg makes Vittoria a glamorous celebrity figure who seems to style herself on Lady Gaga, with colourful wigs to suit every mood and unabashed carnal dance moves. Kirsty Bushell is excellently cast in the lead role.

There's also a fresh - almost clinical - looking stage that has white, glass sealed rooms, which only help to make the blood splattered in them even more dramatic. And there is plenty of blood.

The killings are raw and realistic on stage, especially the convulsions of poisoned Isabella as she brushes her teeth. But although the violence is spine-chillng, don't let that put you off this Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production if you are a little squeemish as there is also a trickle of delightful black humour that runs through the entire performance, even down to the final moment.

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The White Devil is a violent tragedy

The change of making Vittoria's devious and murderous sibling Flaminio a girl instead of a boy is another masterstroke that plays on the battle of the sexes theme running through the Roaring Girl season, which includes Arden of Faversham and The The Roaring Girl.

Actress Laura Elphinstone as Flaminio transforms what at first seems like a whippet of a girl into an angry, dangerous killer who eventually manages to unnerve everyone around her.

The White Devil, Swan Theatre, RSC, Stratford upon Avon
Laura Elphinstone is chilling as Flaminio during realistic murder scenes

At times, this play may seem a little too extraordinary but it is visually alluring throughout with a buzz of excitement over where it will take you next. Just go with it and enjoy the bloody and gripping ride.

Rating: 8/10

The White Devil
Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
30 July - 29 November 2014

Tickets cost from 5 to 35 from the RSC website.

You can watch the trailer here:


Joseph Arkley - Ludovico
Peter Bray - Marcello
Elspeth Brodie - Company
Kirsty Bushell - Vittoria
Colin Anthony Brown - Ambassador
Faye Castelow - Isabella
Keir Charles - Camillo
Liz Crowther - Cornelia
Laura Elphinstone - Flaminio
Mark Holgate - Antonelli
Lizzie Hopley - Hortensio
Joan Iyiola - Zanche
Tony Jayawardena - Ambassador
Michael Moreland - Company
Ken Nwosu - Carlo
David Rintoul - Cardinal Monticelso
Simon Scardifield - Francisco
Jay Simpson - Gasparo
David Sturzaker - Bracciano
Harvey Virdi - Matron

Director - Maria Aberg
Designer - Naomi Dawson
Lighting - James Farncombe
Sound - Tom Gibbons
Music - David Maclean and Tommy Grace
Video design - Nathan Parker
Movement - Ayse Tashkiran
Fights - Malcolm Ranson

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Why? Passion, revenge and a bloody ending
When: Until November 29, 2014
Phone: 0844 800 1114
Where: Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: From 5 - 35
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