The Duchess of Malfi, Rebecca Frecknall’s latest Almeida production, is a sharp, fizzy and provocative adaptation of Webster’s classic revenge tragedy where design takes centre-stage.
Though a Perspex box graces the Almeida stage for the second time this year, previously being put to scenographic use in The Hunt, the set design (Chloe Lamford and Amy Hayden-Wason) is anything but derivative. It’s opulent with a hint of clinical: glossy black floors, oak cabinets and a white-tile backdrop, leaving the upper reaches of the Almeida’s (chronically underutilised) red-brick back wall exposed. The Perspex box provides a sense of a party from which one is just out of reach, or a searingly isolated family unit, or the haunting memory of someone you can’t quite forget: it’s lots of things at once, navigating Webster’s sparkling yet gritty prose with ease, precision and just the right amount of abstraction.
Similarly, the sound design (George Dennis and Fizz Margereson) is unsettling, understated and richly textured. Screeching drones meet moments of jarring ceremony; all the while, onstage handhelds and Perspex-muffled conversations give Malfi a welcome touch of meta-theatricality.
All this provides an exciting and challenging world for Malfi’s characters to inhabit, and resonates with Frecknall’s direction in really interesting ways. Bold, clean and refreshingly un-gimmicky, Malfi’s design alone is worth the price of admission.