Review: Women Beware Women (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)

Middleton’s play is revived at Shakespeare’s Globe’s indoor venue

Daon Broni and Olivia Vinall in Women Beware Women
Daon Broni and Olivia Vinall in Women Beware Women
© Johan Persson

Bianca wears a Clueless-inspired check blazer and skirt with knee-high socks, the Ward and Sordido match with grubby badminton outfits and there are power blazers galore in this kitsch production of Thomas Middleton's Jacobean drama.

Instead of the courts of Florence we are transported to a black and gold hotel lobby, complete with a grated elevator door in Amy Hodge's production, designed by Joanna Scotcher. At first it feels stylish, an easy way in for those who aren't familiar with this play about exploitation and manipulation, but after a while it becomes nauseating and too kooky to be taken seriously.

Tara Fitzgerald's Livia is played as if merely cheeky, puckishly creating mischief rather than orchestrating a destructive chess game. As she is presented as an older woman flirting with new desires, there isn't a hint of seriousness in her demeanour – the majority of the show, therefore, becomes a send-up. You often find yourself laughing when you probably shouldn't.

Hodge and composer Jim Fortune add several songs to the evening's proceedings – such as a list of the Ward's desires – which continually crop up. Though fun, they do seem out of place and as they are accompanied by a jazz band playing interludes often heard in a hammy detective thriller, furthers the farcical nature of the production.

That's not to say that the performances are not enjoyable and there is plenty to admire. Olivia Vinall's Isabella is sincerely sweet, whilst Gloria Onitiri's Guardiano (unfortunately the male roles being played by women do not incite any further meaning to the production) is wonderful to watch, particularly in her interactions with Isabella's incestuous uncle Fabrito (Wil Johnson).

Thalissa Teixeira's performance as the abused Bianca is the winner on the night. She perfectly pitches herself as one of the only grounded characters, and your eyes are drawn to her whenever she is on stage. The staging of both Bianca's rape and Isabella being upskirted are delicately handled. While the former is choreographed with jolted movements and pulsing lights, the latter is unsettlingly sleazy, as the Ward and Sordido circle around Isabella.

Despite some dramatic moments peeking through, the effect of this stylised production leads to an ending peppered with stifled laughter. Even with (spoiler) seven or eight dead bodies at the end of the show, the addition of a white and gold Cupid costume and a throne floating from the sky eradicates any possibility of feeling a sense of shock at the events which have just passed. This production is most definitely style over substance, shoulder pads over serious drama.