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The Duchess of Malfi

Presented by Auckland Theatre Company at the
Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber, Auckland, New Zealand, July 2005
written by John Webster; directed by Colin McColl



The Duchess of Malfi - a widow secretly married to Antonio
Sophia Hawthorne
Ferdinand - Duke of Calabria, twin brother of the Duchess
Benjamin Farry
The Cardinal - elder brother of the Duchess
Cameron Rhodes
Daniel de Bosola - a spy employed by the Duchess's brothers
Michael Hurst
Antonio Bologna - steward and secret husband to the Duchess
Matt Wilson
Delio - Antonio's friend
Simon London
Cariola - waiting woman to the Duchess
Robyn Malcolm
Pescara - a courtier
Peter Daube
Roderigo - a courtier
Nigel Collins
Malateste - a courtier, friend of Ferdinand's
Ora Simpson
Julia - the Cardinal's mistress
Robyn Malcolm
Gene Hollins-Werry
Daniel Nisbet
Thomas Crosson
Other courtiers, servants, court officials, guards and madmen played by the company

Colin McColl
  Musicians   Nigel Collins
Assistant Director
Margaret Mary-Hollins
      Peter Daube
Set and Lighting Designer
Tony Rabbit
Costume Designer
Elizabeth Whiting
Composition and Music Designer
John Gibson

Artistic Director
Colin McColl

This year is the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when disgruntled British Catholics attempted to blow up King James I and his entire parliament.  It epitomized the unpredictability of the times.

Despite difficulties towards the end of her reign, Elizabeth had taken on (and actively promoted) a God-like status amongst her subjects.  James was not nearly as attractive a figure--his luxuries, his sycophantic court crowded with favourites, his hedonism and arrogance made Elizabeth's reign seem like the glory days.  Religious discontent was rife, with the Puritan movement gaining momentum, and as scientific discovery went ahead in leaps and bounds so the absolute power of the Church was challenged.

The drama of Elizabeth's reign had been predominantly bold and assured; villains overcome by the forces of good, confirming the existence of moral order.  Jacobean drama was darker and more complex and reflected the spirit of the times.  The plays explored corrupt worlds where human nature was suspect and self-consciousness and uncertainty reigned.

Although Webster based his play on a true story set in Italy, the ideas of injustice, inequality and corruption he explored were undoubtedly comments on Jacobean England.

Approaching a Jacobean drama's darkness of spirit today can seem as daunting for actors as it may be for audiences.  Yet the moral complexity of these plays make them surprisingly contemporary, edgy and intriguing psychological studies of flawed characters.

In an attempt to get to the heart of The Duchess of Malfi we have stripped back the setting to a bare black world where the story can unfold and the clash of personalities can be seen in stark relief.  The characters (like us all) are caught between heaven and hell.  This unembellished setting (deliberately free of directorial concepts and painterly sets) suggests the moral wasteland of the human soul and allows clarity for the story to unfold and affords Webster's words--at once astonishingly poetic and surprisingly modern--the prominence they deserve.

One of theatre's enduring strengths in this digital age is celebration of the eloquence of language.  The Duchess of Malfi has this in abundance. 

My thanks to the company of actors for their talent, commitment and insights.  Also to the production team and theatre management for allowing myself and my creative team the time and space to "distill" this Duchess.  It was been an exhilarating voyage of discovery for us all.

-Colin McColl


Rehearsal photos (above); click below for
The Duchess of Malfi Photo Gallery

Year-End Kudos for The Duchess of Malfi

Listener:   "The boldest production was Colin McColl’s Duchess of Malfi for the ATC.  McColl consistently mounts challenging theatre, and there were some inspired moments in this stylish production.  Notably, the best design of the year by Tony Rabbit, with his thrust sandpit stage and imaginative use of the Town Hall concert chamber, sumptuous costumes by Elizabeth Whiting, striking original music by John Gibson, not to mention another captivating performance by Hurst (as Bosola)."

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Reviews and Articles on The Duchess of Malfi

New Zealand Herald:  "The moral dilemmas of the story are strikingly delineated by Michael Hurst's portrayal of Bosola, a malcontent who is torn between the impulse to do good and the corrupting influence of his position in society.  Hurst is a commanding stage presence who displays a superb understanding of the language of the play." 

Sunday-Star Times:  "But ultimately it is the performances by Hurst, who wrings each word of meaning, and Sophia Hawthorne, who manages a sort of intelligent earthiness, that become stamped in memory and make this brave and smart production so wonderful."

The National Business Review:  "Michael Hurst as Bosola . . . invests the character with a complex set of emotions and his acting reinforces his conflicted personality.. . . . his ability to let the language flow naturally reveal(ed) not only its beauty but also the inventiveness of the imagery."

Listener:  "Hurst delivers a magnificent reptilian portrayal – a study in surly menace. . . . His torture scene with the duchess is masterful. Bound in chains, she is majestic and defiant in the flickering candlelight while he fights fits of conscience."

New Zealand Herald (preview):  "Michael Hurst, McColl's first choice for the role of malcontent Bosola, . . . describes the work, which has fascinated him since studying it at university, as a play about moral redemption, questioning how far each of us will go before accepting responsibility for our actions."