by Rachel Beaumont

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BLWRAAAAAHHHGH-uck-urggh: The White Devil at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

The White Devil
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
26 March 2017
Lower Gallery A14, £14

I'm not really sure I get Jacobean revenge dramas. So shoot me. Or rather, launch a torturous and confusing revenge plot that I can torturously counter-scheme against and in the end we might both have our hearts eaten by the pope who's unknowingly our long-lost mother. (Yeah, take THAT, genre.) Nevertheless, SWP does seem to be the place for them, and The White Devil was the same deliriously gory uber-ham that the theatre has made a speciality.

Perhaps with the exception of the music, which I thought reached previously untouched heights. Composer Tom Lane has provided a full-on Hammer Horror score achieved with the remarkably tiny forces of a three-part multi-tasking band (Steve Bentley-Klein, Mark Bousie and Maddie Cutter, all exemplary, although Bentley-Klein gets special credit for playing violin, trumpet, dulcimer and guitar). Their music was more than atmospheric: ingenious, frightening and thoroughly camp, it was a perfect continuation of the shouty histrionics happening below.

It was very enjoyable to hear these musicians play superbly attuned music in the SWP's remarkable acoustic. I could have done with rather less volume from the cast, though, who shouted and rambusted as though they were out in the Globe competing with 747s overhead. I'm a bit too delicate for all that – so too for quite so much ribaldry. Joseph Timms as Flaminio was the main culprit and he seemed to be having a whale of a time, so much so that I was almost rescued from feeling embarrassed. Almost, but not quite: I find there's a particular nadir in being a quiet grown-up in a room full of grown-ups watching an extrovert grown-up go gustily thrusting around, and there are four or five of those nadirs in The White Devil. Couldn't we tone it down a little?

Everything else is played to the hilt and quite rightly so, the cast strutting and bellowing and air-sawing as they should in probably no other material. They're all excellently cast and entirely on board, though Kate Stanley-Brennan as Vittoria probably has to be my favourite, with her wonderful throaty voice and imperious eyebrows. Anna Healy was also superb both as the passing necromancer and the murderous brothers' mother, her mad scene as genuinely affecting as this play got. Jamie Ballard as Bracciano, though, won the prize for the best death by miiiiiiles – you've got to be careful of those poisoned beavers.

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