The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

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BBC Radio 3, 8 November 1992
Recorded on location in a remote Welsh castle, Alison Hindon's revival was compellingly acted by an eight-strong cast, inviting us to reflect on power and gender politics, and how such politics result in the destruction of a state.
The production was notable for its claustrophobic nature, with the actors' voices echoing as if they were all confined to a small room. Both the Cardinal (John Shrapnel) and Ferdinand (Adrian Dunbar) moved up close to the Duchess (Fiona Shaw) in a vain attempt to make her submit to their combined will. For the first half of the production it seemed as if their intimidation was successful, as they subjected her to indignity after indignity. The two men stood close to the microphone hissing their lines, making it seem as if they were standing on each side of the Duchess and whispering into her ears.
As the action unfolded, however, their strategy became less and less effective, as the Duchess acquired an inner strength - suggested as much by what she didn't say as what she said. Shaw delivered her lines slowly yet deliberately, taking lengthy pauses between each quatrain and thereby ensuring that she kept her emotions under control. Sometimes the sheer strain of this task proved palpable, as she elongated her vowels or emphasized a line-ending; but for the most part she remained calm. Even Bosola (Roger Allam), supposedly the best trickster in the kingdom, failed to move her. The Duchess' achievement in resisting patriarchal domination was emphaszied by Tim Riley's score, which became positively chirpy in its use of violins and flutes to register the changes between each scene.
Through such techniques director Hindon underlined the fact that The Duchess is a profoundly subsersive text, questioning the strength of male power and eventually finding it wanting. This aspect of the play became more and more evidence, once the Duchess had been strangled to death, and her three male tormentors experienced a collective mental collapse. Ferdinand fell victim to lycanthropy, suggested by a violent tonal variation in delivery; sometimes he screeched his lines in falsetto, on other occasions he grunted like a bull on the loose. The Cardinal tried to sustain a facade of respectability, but his disintegrating mental state was suggested by an increadingly breathless delivery. Only Bosola remained calm, as he understood the consequences of his previous behaviour and tried to make amends. He ended the play speaking as quietly and rationally as he had been at the beginning. Superficially this illustrated his strength of character; but Hindon also suggested that this was part of Bosola's moral bankruptcy. He would continue to serve anyone, so long as it remained politically and financially expedient for him to do so. Even Bosola himself recognized this, as he spat out his concluding lines ("To suffer death or shame for what is just/ Mine is another voyage"), suggesting that he was neither incapable of suffering shame, nor knew what just behaviour actually involved. The statement was simply a convenient thing to say just before he died.
With no one left to assume the reins of power, we were left to reflect on what had happened in the previous five acts. In their rabid desire to possess the Duchess, both mentally and physically, the three men - the Cardinal, Ferdinand and Bosola - had destroyed the state, while consolidating the Duchess' reputation as a powerful, independent personality. Their strategy had precisely the opposite effect from what they originally intended.