Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cover her Face, Inky Cloak Theatre, Bethnal Green Working Men's Club

photo: Leon Csernohlavek from
'Great theatre in interesting spaces' reads the first line of Inky Cloak's website. Well, we saw them fulfill much of that promise last month with a modernised (if not modern) production of Shakespeare's The Duchess of Malfi. The fevered climate of Italian courtly pride, paranoia and power-gaming is transferred to the business and social alcoves of working-class London in the early 1960s.

At the centre is La JohnJoseph's trans Duchess, whose identity punches clear of any gender-stereotyping, which resonates with the period. At the beginning of the 1960s all bets were off. The rules were being re-written at every level of society. Ideas & charisma had more currency than tradition or cliques. This is borne out in this confident performer/ance (rather like Gilbert & George, of the same period and square mile, person, performer and performance are totally integrated).

The supporting performances were all of a similar calibre. Through the unusual prism of the Duchess' sexuality the relationships between the men became more sharply defined, with power-struggles played out through sexual encounters or the rivalry that sexual interest foments. Christopher Tester's Bosola was the keenest-drawn bellweather of this relationships (and spoke the text superbly into the bargain).

The Bethnal Green Working Men's Club is a perfect period space for this conceit. The traverse set-up took some getting used to but the wood-panel gloaming and cheap, glittery variety curtain were of a piece with the work. A re-worked line to have the Duchess elope to 'Brighton', though provoking a chuckle, was well-judged, as was unobtrusive lighting and sound design. That the production happened at all was through the investment of individuals (like myself) in the company's Kickstarter campaign that raised over £5,000 to secure adequate follow-through on these ideas. A susbstantial show.

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