The Oxford amdram group the Studio Theatre Club have taken a brave leap away from their usual fare of light-hearted comedies and attacked with gusto a modern reworking of Webster's violent tragedy, The Duchess Of Malfi. And it is every inch a success. The main cast throw themselves with relish into their roles and are clearly enjoying their chance to tackle a play which resounds with themes of lust, treachery and murder.
Matthew Fifield ensures his Ferdinand is every inch the maniacal, violent antagonist, contrasting sharply with the cool, disdained figure of the Cardinal, Ferdinand's father, adeptly played by Stephen Briggs. Francesca Richards has to run the gamut of emotions in the title role, and she brings much nobility and pathos to the Duchess' tragic tale. The star of the show is undoubtedly Jon Shepherd's Bosola, though. He commands attention whenever he treads the boards and manages to give the character much depth and a personal tragedy of his own. Despite Bosola's deeds, Shepherd draws the audience into feeling pity and a sense of injustice for how Bosola's character is, time and again, used as a tool to commit someone else's atrocities. It's such a fun, energetic performance, and never once overdone in a role which could easily be over-played.
It's not all deep, dark tragedy, of course. There's plenty of wit and fun interjected throughout the play which balances out the drama well - and it's a needed buffer to some of the more violent scenes, which had some audience members cringing!
It was a pity to see so many seats empty so I wish the STC the best for the rest of their run and hope more seats are filled. It's a thoroughly entertaining romp which the amateur group have clearly worked hard to put together and it deserves to be seen.