Thomas Middleton is a name I’ve heard of and knew about in the context that he’s a contemporary (some scholars say collaborator too) of Shakespeare, yet I’ve never seen one of his plays, until yesterday.
Women Beware Women is regarded as one of Middleton’s best works and it’s currently on at The National Theatre.
The first thing that strikes you is the stylish set that fills the Olivier Theatre stage. Director Marianne Elliot has chosen to set this in an art deco style and this helps to make the play seem more modern while allowing it to have the style and glamour of a bygone era. Lez Brotherston is to be congratulated on this fabulous set and costuming.
The play is 3 hours in length and have to say I found the first half did drag. As to be expected Middleton introduces us to the characters, twists and plots in this first half, there were some great witty moments and as the plot thickens we get to see the webs that are being weaved. The highlight is the scene that involves a chess game being played between Leantio’s mother and Livia as the game is being played another “game” is being done in Livia’s house, it is this scene that is quite famous and I was pleased to see it done so well. I recommend reading; http://streathambrixtonchess.blogspot.com/2006/10/chess-in-art-postscript-game-at-chesse.html for some more info on this scene.
The second half goes with much more punch and panache and was thrilling.
leton has been dubbed “the Tudor Tarrantino”, and I can see why as the murders come thick and fast. The webs that are woven trap all and sundry and usually ensnare the wrong people with tragic consequences. The final masked ball scene was gripping as the stage revolves around repeatedly the cast run/leap/sneak around and it’s one of the most memorable scenes I’ve scene in theatre.
The cast performed superbly and brought the wit, darkness, tragedy of this play to life (and death) before our eyes.
The gallery band were a subtle and suitable addition to the play and added the right mood as appropriate with their jazz music.
What struck me more was how contemporary this play felt, the issues of greed, lust, manipulation, power are issues that are still prevalent in our society. The programme contains a wonderful essay by Linda Davies that really links this play with the 21st centuries god of materialism. As a former investment banker she hauntingly tells us;
The stage just got bigger.”
Middleton is an accomplished wordsmith and has many memorable lines in this play, one of my favourite sums up the play (and perhaps the human condition) ;
“Sin tastes, at the first draught, like wormwood water
But, drunk again,
’tis nectar ever after.”