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Tom Mannion presents a dark, brooding, surprisingly comical Bosola
A dark cloud of bleak wit and grim goings-on is set to descend on Glasgow in the RSC's revival of John Webster's Jacobean classic, THE DUCHESS OF MALFI. Words: Steve Cramer
So what would you do. girls? There you are. the most pov'erful woman in the country and. having been widowed for a while. you look around for a new partner. Simple enough on the face of it. but because you‘re so powerful. no one will approach you. and you have to do all the wooing yourself. All the same. you eventually find the right guy. but he's imperilled by your two brothers. One's the country‘s cardinal and a pervy corrupt bugger to boot who doesn‘t want an heir to the throne. and the other. Ferdinand. is just jealous because he's got an overpowering sexual desire for you. and is so disturbed that he eventually turns into a werewolf.
And you thought your family Christmases were hard work? In the meantime. there‘s sensation aplenty. with sane folk locked into asylums. dead bodies sported with and dissected. and a general air of dark corruption.
Thus runs John Webster‘s Jacobean tragedy. The Duchess OfMalﬁ. the pivotal character of which is
Bosola. a classic Macchiavel. who. as the hireling of
the brothers. facilitates much of the evil done. But for all the darkness of the play. Tom Mannion. the Glasgow-born actor who‘ll be coming home in Gale Edwards' touring production for the RSC. maintains that there’s also a good deal of laughter. ‘1 like its humour.‘ he says. ‘Just when you least expect it. there's ajoke.‘
80 THE U8T SJan—18 Jan 2001
‘He's an unreliable hero. He's always adding two and two and coming up with seven.’
Much of this humour proceeds from Bosola's interaction with the audience. This is a play that frequently ruptures its created illusion. pointing to its own theatricality. ‘I like playing with the idea that this Bosola fellow is very linked with the audience.‘ says Mannion. still remembered in Scotland for his brilliant big-nosed lead in (‘ommunicado's celebrated ('yram) (le Bergerue. "l‘he world of the play is constantly thrown up to the world of the audience here and now. Hitting back and forth between both worlds is where it works.’
When we reflect upon its stage conventions. it becomes quite clear why this play is so popular in the modern theatre. With a heightened theatricality.
metatheatrical impulses and a generally dark view of
the society it observes. Webster's l7th century classic is truly that thing which so many classics claim to be. but aren‘t: a genuinely modern play. Indeed. given its use of the unreliable narrator — that is. characters whose account of events are constantly incorrect. undermined and subjective — it‘s almost a post— modern play. ‘He's an unreliable hero.~ agrees Mannion about the part of Bosola. 'l-le speaks to the audience. but he's not a reliable source. He's always adding two and two and coming up with seven.”
This kind of character is one we love to hate. but in an unstable and unreliable world. Mannion explains that Bosola. who seems to do evil for its own sake. is as much sinned against as sinning. for he‘s been treated harshly in the past by the very people he serves. ‘He has a sense of grieving injustice.‘ he says. 'Which is fair enough. though
what he does is unacceptable. But he‘s a kind of
moral fulcrum. and every time he tries to do something good. something bad comes of it.~
With such up-and-coming RSC stars as Aisling ()‘Sullivan as the Duchess and Colin Tierney as Ferdinand. the production looks set to create all the horror movie darkness and grim wit that the text promises.
The Duchess Of Malfi, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 16-Sat 20 Jan
Re:Treading the boards
NOW, IN MY 2001 theatre highlights available in the features section of the magazine, there was a particular event which I didn’t mention, for it needs to be taken up here. In February, Liam Brennan, for this writer possibly the best actor currently working on Scottish stages, will be playing Hamlet, an obvious zenith in the career of any stage actor. The production will be directed by David Mark Thomson, a man who has shown great flair and ingenuity with Shakespeare in the past. No one can ever say whether any production will be of high quality before it's put before an audience, but this combination of talents has the potential to be one of the year's theatrical highs.
So why mention it in an editorial column? Well, a story, potentially tragic, goes with it. It might be the last production of this kind to be seen in this venue. For Thomson's base, the Brunton Theatre is under threat of losing the funding it has received from East Lothian Council, its only significant funder. Given the quality of work produced by this company, this state of affairs is nothing short of a scandal. For the last three years Thomson has produced some superb work on a shoestring budget, including a Fringe First, a Herald Angel and an acting award for Tony Cownie for the utterly brilliant A Madman Sings To The Moon.
Surely the Scottish Arts Council, which withdrew its funding three years ago, could step in to guarantee the survival of the Brunton company should, as seems likely at the time of writing, East Lothian Council let them down. To see the theatre reduced to the status of a receiving house would surely be to the detriment of the Scottish theatre generally. Whispers is not alone in this opinion. Scottish theatre heavyweights such as Gerry Mulgrew, Tony Reekie, Neil Murray, Nicola McCartney, Ben Harrison and Joyce MacMillan are all on record in supporting the continued funding of the theatre. Whispers joins them in their condemnation of a potentially pointless and bureaucratic piece of decision making.
The Brunton's multi-award winning A Madman Shouts At The Moon