Cardiff University’s Act One Drama Society does ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ by Aaliyah Buchanan


On the 24th February 2017 I went to go and see ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ at the Llanover Hall Arts Centre in Canton, which was originally written by John Webster. A play that highlights the abuse of women and their struggles, which this new cast also brought to the light.  This version of the play was directed by Martin Newman alongside the production managers CJ Friday and James McNeill, and their vision brought to life by an extremely talented cast; that not only gripped and thrilled the audience but brought a new light to this 17th century play.

The first thing I noticed when allowed into the theatre room, was the minimalistic set that really created an ominous feeling. I was immediately engaged in what I was about to watch and excited that the director and crew had decided to take an edgier angle to the original play. Despite it being a small theatre, this time used by the Cardiff University’s Act one Drama Society, every single seat was occupied and after watching the play you would be able to understand why.

Alongside the amazing set was the lighting and music, which was done by Daisy Leach and Lloyed Gerard.  Both of these components combined, transported the audience into another dimension, I forgot that I was in a small theatre in Canton. One of the highlights for me was the tension and atmosphere created by these small but significant components such as lighting, set and sound. They really added to the effect of this wonderful production.

Another thing that really grabbed my eye was the costume and makeup. When I first decided I wanted to go and review this play I expected something outdated, especially when it came down to costume and makeup. However I was proved wrong by the contemporary looks presented throughout the production. Monica Jones, Emily Broad, Miriam Hopkins and Erin Doherty really succeeded in using makeup and costume to create tone, which changed as the play went on towards its tragic ending. I had never considered makeup or costume being important aspects of a theatre production, however after watching this play and seeing when it is done well I now realise the importance of both when telling a story; especially one that needed a few new elements to modernise it.

One thing that grabbed the audience by their collars, thrilled and terrified them, was the choreography and technical elements of the play. I have never watched a play before that has made me want to cover my eyes, yet still get up on my feet to look closer. In gruesome scenes in which a characters throat was ripped out, another throat snapped, the duchess herself strangled, every single member of the audience was up on their feet, covering their mouths in shock, yet looking closer to get a better look. Congratulations to Rosie Paul and Bryon James who brought the tough scenes to life.

Last but not the least, the most important component of a play, the cast. Every single member of this cast made every second of this play a thrill. They made us laugh, cry, shout and gasp with what looked like very little effort, they are one of the most talented casts I have seen in a small theatre production. The star of the show was of course the Duchess herself, Poppy Parker. No words could justify how well she acted throughout this entire performance. Out of all of the characters she had the toughest moments to act in the play, one in which sitting almost naked in a bath, centre stage, whilst arguing with her on-stage brother about the injustice he had served her. Despite tough issues being raised that I could not personally relate to, Poppy brought this character to life in such a way that allowed me to feel every emotion that her character felt. Four other key players that really caught my attention were Luke Merchant (Bosola), James Cole-Ezen (Ferdinand), Alec Cook (The Cardinal) and Oliver Canning (Antonio). All four of these men silenced the audience and enchanted them with their acting. All of them extremely talented and what I predict, from watching this one play, a very bright future. But as I understand one could not do it without the other, and it should be made clear that every single cast member in this production were absolutely phenomenal. All of them ridiculously talented and I would go and see another of any one of their plays. Congratulations to you all: Elizabeth Clements, Vanessa Wolf, Abbie Andrews, Eddie Dewey, Emily Fear, Freddie Miller, Phoebe Todd, Dominic Parish and James Baird.