Written in 1621, the discourse presented in Women Beware Women is a remark on the rising dalliance of the Italian renaissance aristocracy. Middleton’s characters use their sexuality to further their own pleasures or ambitions. Even so far as to show acts of incest within the noble family between an uncle and niece. Their actions are clearly outlined as amoral acts, which Middleton suggests can only lead to tragic ends in the final scene of his murderous play. Questions of morality and politics abound, making it a rich source material for artist to dig deeper and place their own stamp.
Recently brought to life once more at the Camden People’s Theatre, Women Beware Women was directed by Artistic Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones as a means to showcase Liverpool drama students from the University of Portsmouth. In their version, the audience was presented with an avant-garde depiction of the Medici family, which held prominence during the Italian renaissance. Their attire was comprised of black trash bags, tutus, metals, and various dark materials resulting in a modern punk aesthetic. This aesthetic was reinforced by the music selections throughout the piece performed by the students, all of which are partaking in a joint acting and music program. The two most memorable being their renditions of White Wedding by Billy Idol and Take Me to Church by Hozier. The combination of music and attire creating a provocative backdrop for the play.
The overall performance was executed well and a few stood out amongst the rest. The character of Livia was performed excellently. She was able to blend the seduction and authority required in the role. Even when presented stark naked, often considered our most vulnerable, she maintained her authority and presence in the room. She did suffer slightly from the abundance of her nudity on stage, which deprived her of the anticipation and seductiveness inherent in the act of the reveal. Similarly, Leantio was able to play a love-struck youth that is consumed in grief when his wife Bianca betrays him to run off with the Duke of Florence. The acting did fall a little flat with the character of the Uncle, who was love struck by his own niece. The immediate issue was the actors’ age, or rather, the age he appeared on stage. He seemed quite young which detracted from the believability of him being the uncle to the actor playing his niece. Further, he lacked a presence, I no more believed he could charm a harlot, let alone his own sister and niece.
The play had great movement, it continued to push through even in moments of long dialogue. This was helped largely by the music which was masterfully weaved into the play and were often stronger scenes in both impact and ability of the artists. Spencer-Jones did an outstanding job of revitalizing a Jacobean tragedy into a punk gore feast, ripe with debauchery. Capturing the essence of the play in a fun and compelling manor for any adventurous theatre goer.