The White Devil is set in Padua and charts the love and intrigue between Duke Bracciano and Vittoria, whose impoverished family and hails from Venice (a byword in English Renaissance theatre for vice). In order to marry his lover, Bracciano arranges the murders of Isabella and Camillo, his wife and Vittoria’s husband. However, it is Vittoria who is brought to trial by a horrifyingly misogynistic court.
The play is as much about class as gender conflict and casting the disgraced but noble Vittoria as a northern lass in a predominantly RP court is surprising and very effective. Hollie McGovern plays Vittoria with dignity and intelligence, refusing to become a victim despite the unfairness of her fate.
Ricky Dukes’ production owes much to Marianne Elliott’s Women Beware Women at the National earlier this year. Text is cut and replaced with action, which keeps the pace engaging but sacrifices plot and, perhaps, the tragic element of the play. The "La Dolce Vita" aesthetic (which was stunningly employed by Elliott) lends itself beautifully to the dark, decedent Italian court. Terrifically brooding atmosphere is provided by Heather Doole’s dramatic lighting design, Rebecca Mills’ sumptuous costumes and James Shepherd’s smoky, shadowy set.
This is a stylish production, and visual tricks abound. This is at times effective and moving, as when Vittoria is stripped of her finery at the end of the play, but was at others irritating or distracting. I’m fairly sure I missed some important exposition while mesmerised by some slow motion conversations taking place in line with the action. There was a lot of slow motion - no one seems to walk at a normal speed. This stylish production of an intriguing, under-performed play is well worth checking out.