Gruesome, gory, grandiose and gorgeous

    The White Devil
    By John Webster
    Adapted by Gale Edwards

    Sydney Theatre Company
    Theatre Royal Sydney from 18 August 2000

    Direction Gale Edwards
    Set Design Brian Thomson
    Costume Design Roger Kirk
    Composer Max Lambert and Martin Armiger

    With Paula Arundell, Julia Blake, John Gaden, Brian Green, Angie Milliken, Heather Mitchell, Matthew Newton, Philip Quast, Jeremy Sims, Bruce Spence, Hugo Weaving, William Zappa

    Reviewed by Elizabeth

    Duke Brachiano is in love with Vittoria Corombona. Vittoria is married to Camillo. Brachiano is also married - to Isabella. Flamineo is Vittoria's brother. Flamineo wants Brachiano and Vittoria to be together, so he arranges for the murder of Camillo. And the murder of Isabella. Together at last, Brachiano and Isabella marry. But they weren't counting on the Duke of Florence, Isabella's brother. He comes after Brachiano. And Vittoria. And Flamineo. More murders. Confused yet?

    Soap opera in 17th Century Italian Court. Lust, libertines and longing. There are more relationships that you can poke a stick at, beautiful men and women at every turn and even characters who return from the dead to haunt the living.
    Madness, mayhem and murder. Blood, lust and rhetoric.

    Gale Edwards' production of The White Devil for the Sydney Theatre Company is awesome.

    A stellar cast, headed by Hugo Weaving and Angie Milliken stand strong in the epic theatricality of the piece, heightened speech and movements, much swirling of capes, striding of boots, posturing and evil glares across the stage. Webster, a playwright of Shakespeare's era, took the true story of the lustful Duke Bracciano who had his wife and the husband of Signora Accaramboni murdered so the lovely Signora and he could be together, and turned it into a bloody tale of murder and intrigue. The fabulous Ms Edwards and her outstanding cast have taken it to new heights.

    Weaving is tremendously sexy and sly as Brachiano, all hips and lips in black leather and ruffled white cotton and his impassioned (and so very bloody) death has hearts racing. Angie Milliken is strong, powerful and a stunning example of why Brachiano would kill for her. She is sex in raw silk and holds her own entirely against the extraordinary John Gaden, Philip Quast and a score of lawyers who would have her killed for a murder she didn't commit, merely because she is a woman.

    Hats must go off to Jeanette Cronin, who replaced an unwell Heather Mitchell at exceptionally short notice halfway through the preview week - her Isabella is thunderous. Her scathing monologue to Brachiano detailing what she will do to his 'whore' must have made more than one man in the audience wince and reconsider adulterous behaviour.

    Jeremy Sims' Flamineo is an exquisite contrast to the other characters - they pose and preen, he lurks and leaps. A bundle of energy onstage, Flamineo has the longest soliloquies and Sims never fails to holds our attention with every word and gesture, filling in the gaps in the plot twists and urging the mayhem on with quirky witticisms.

    Philip Quast as Francisco, the Duke of Florence is (as always) a beguiling presence on the stage, the epitome of tall, dark and handsome, ominous and terrifying in his anger over the death of his sister, equally as disturbing in the empty satisfaction of triumphant revenge. He swoops around the stage in graceful strides, a perfect foil to John Gaden's acerbic Monticelso. Yet again, Quast reveals to us a villain with Machiavellian intent, but within this corruption, we see Francisco's pain and loss and we almost forgive him his murderous desire for retribution.

    Roger Kirk's costumes are sexy and slick - leather, silk, satin, corsets, frock coats, boots and hoop skirts that would give Deborah Carr a run for her money. Brian Thompson's set is austere and commanding, bridges, portraits and cages flying in to the pounding heartbeats of Max Lambert and Martin Armiger's nerve-shattering score, and Trudy Dalgleish's lighting design alternates the dramatic temperature in magentas, blues and reds.

    In what could have potentially been YET another old-fashioned staid production of prose-heavy text and dramatic gestures, Edwards and her team have created a heart-racing, blood-thirsty, lustful drama where the lines between politics, sex and religion are so blurred they no longer exist. We understand each character's desires, curl our lips with the villains and gasp along with the death throes of each victim. And there are a lot. ;)

    Edwards has created a masterpiece (again) and the word this morning is that the Brooklyn Academy of Music have invited the production to play at their Festival in New York next March.