The White Devil by John Webster, adapted by Marc Beeby

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BBC Radio 3, 15 August 2010
Set in the early 1950s, the Italy of Marc Beeby's revival was a place where intrigue was so commonplace that no one coild trust one another. Language was not a means of communication but rather obfuscation, with the characters trying to outwit one another through puns, innuendo and other wordplay. It was particularly hard to distinguish them vocally, but perhaps this was a deliberate attempt on the director's part to portray a dog-eat-dog world where individualism did not matter.
This world also seemed a very misogynist, with the male characters spent most of their time making jokes at Isabella's (Christine Kanavagh's) and Vittoria's (Anna Maxwell Martin's) expense. Partly this was due to a desire for power (in a gangland world, this was the number one priority), but many of the male characters also seemed insecure; if they did not assert their sexuality, their position as leaders might be under threat. Vittoria proved herself exceptionally adept at exploiting this weakness for her own ends, which made her even more unpopular in a patriarchal world. Hence it was inevitable that she had to die; the established social order had to reassert itself in some way, even if that was inevitably through violence.
At times the mood changed slightly, as Flamineo (Patrick Kennedy) revealed a superficial attraction for Vittoria. However his behaviour was viewed with suspicion; was he simply trying to ingratiate himself with her to serve his own self-interested purposes. However Flamineo's mood soon changed, as he resorted once more to the politics of trickery to outwit his rivals.
I am not sure that relocating the play in the early 1950s actually worked; apart from some music played on the soundtrack, there was little sense that this was the kind of "murky underworld" characteristic of the period. However Beeby did prompt reflection on how gender roles are imposed on people, forcing them to behave in a certain manner, even if their personalities are unsuited for such roles. This was certainly true of the male characters, who understood - quite wrongly - that violence and inner strength are two completely different traits. The truly strong character was Vittoria, who possessed both cunning and a protean skill at role-playing to achieve her ends. While she perished at the end, in the blood-bath characteristic of most Jacobean tragedies, she had nonetheless managed to uncover the males' basic weaknesses.