Gemma Arterton in Globe's The Duchess of Malfi - reviews

Jan 17, 2014

Arterton brings queenly beauty to Webster's macabre revenge tragedy in Globe's new candle-lit theatre

What you need to know

A new candle-lit production of John Webster's Jacobean revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, starring Gemma Arterton, has been warmly praised by critics.

Webster's macabre and violent play, written around 1612, was first performed at London's Blackfriars theatre, a small indoor theatre that serves as the model for the new Shakespeare's Globe Wanamaker Playhouse where this version is being staged. 

Arterton stars as the Duchess, a young widow who defies her brothers by marrying a commoner for love. Her brothers plot a nightmarish revenge, destroying themselves in the process. Runs until 16 February.

What the critics like

To her role as the Duchess, Gemma Arterton brings "beauty, determination and a sense of moral goodness", says Michael Billington in The Guardian. But the success of the evening lies in the fact that Webster's play and this exciting new space make a perfect fit.

The production is a "gripping, insinuating piece of romance, trickery and bloodshed", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. The candlelight becomes like a character in the show and this difficult masterpiece slips down remarkably smoothly.

Staging The Duchess of Malfi in this tiny jewel-box theatre is a triumph, says Libby Purves on Theatre Cat. Arterton brings a queenly beauty to the role and with the magic of candlelight and period music it takes your breath away.

What they don't like

"Gilded, gorgeously costumed and decked out with all the signature Globe trappings of music and dance, this debut production at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is one to see," says Alexandra Coghlan on Artsdesk. Unfortunately, you may not actually glimpse that much of the action as the space has terrible sightlines.

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