Prague Fringe 2013
Duchess of Malfi is an inspiringly loose adaptation of John Webster’s Jacobean drama. Herein the Duchess marries a largely unintelligent man of lesser means and tries to keep this from her vengeful and exqusitely cooky siblings.
I am sorely tempted to say as little as possible about the play as it might spoil the surprises that the Prague Shakespeare Company sprang on their opening night’s unsuspecting audience.
The actions of the play do not demand even a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect as the pleasure gained in watching is not born of a delight in the tale of clandestine love gone awry, but in the titillating moments of disbelief at the character’s goings on. Suffice it to say the Duchess does fall in love with a man beneath her in society and attempts to hide this from her despicably evil brother and sister. She is of course unsuccessful in this venture and the messy consequences are worth the price of entry alone.
There was no word around town of how the project was going during the rehearsals of this curious show, other than ‘Yes, fine, it’s all going well, thanks.’
We were greeted at the Rubin bar with a shot of complimentary Czech Boskov Rum to ‘get us in the mood’. Studio Rubin happens to be one of the smaller venues on the Fringe circuit and is by far the hottest. Strangely enough, the oppressive heat of the place added a perverse feeling of filthiness equal to the play’s sick and twisted heart (as did the rum).
The PSC’s Duchess of Malfi is a very different beast to the original John Webster conception. Utilizing the style known as Tragedia dell’arte, the company revel in producing a larger than life, wildly physical, morally deviant and chaotically violent bacchanal.
Where Webster’s work is a dark-hearted and violent poem of power, revenge and deception, this adaptation is a verbose drunk’s dirty limerick of incest, vomit and wonderfully deranged villains.
Jared Doreck triumphed in standing out from a truly standout cast. His portrayal of an endearingly dumb Antonio was infused with sincerity and a true gift for comic timing. Another notable performance came from the fearless Bethany Dockalova as Vulvia, the Duchess’s sister. Bethany quite simply allowed herself to be possessed by one of the most outrageously OTT baddies I have ever seen on stage.
Though the spectacle was mightily impressive the scenes might have flowed a little more smoothly. The piece is all about relishing the moment and milking it (literally at one point) for all it is worth. For that reason there is no ‘hero’ as such, but a carousel of repulsive yet brilliant clowns gurning their way to a satisfyingly bloody finale. Note – Sit on the front row at your own risk.