It feels a bit of a shame that one of the centrepieces of the RSC’s Roaring Girls season is a play that doesn’t manage gender parity in its cast, even with some cross-gender casting. This may speak of the nature of Jacobean Theatre, for it is Webster’s The White Devil of which we speak here, but Maria Aberg’s reputation precedes her and so it was a little disappointing to see that the opportunity hasn’t been seized here – if not now, then when?
And though I’d heard such great things about this production, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed here. Part of lies in the play itself – I can’t deny that I just don’t really like it and though it is updated to the debauchery of the 1980s Rome club scene here, the messy chaos of the pursuit of naked self-interest that proves Aberg’s main focus dominates too much and often to the detriment of the storytelling.
Kirsty Bushell’s Vittoria is in the midst of a torrid affair with the married Bracciano, a passionate David Sturzaker and when caught, ends up in the show trial to end all show trials against David Rintoul’s showboating Cardinal who represents the patriarchal society she has done so much to fight against. The trial is where Bushell shines, there’s a real sense of a wonderfully vibrant character here in the intelligent Vittoria and free from too much frippery, she really delivers.
Aberg’s choice to cast Laura Elphinstone as Flaminio, traditionally a male role, offers another great opportunity for some seriously fierce acting, which an androgynified Elphinstone seizes with both hands. What it does to the balance of the play is another thing though, the deep-seated misogyny that Flaminio is responsible for somehow unanchored in this amoral mess. Faye Castelow and Simon Scardifield also impressed but I couldn’t help but feel I wanted more from the Roaring Girl to really maximise the impact of the season.