The Duchess of Malfi

Play by John Webster. One of the great Jacobean tragedies, The Duchess of Malfi charts the calamitous consequences of a young widow's refusal to obey her brothers' command never to remarry. When the spy, Bosola, is planted in her household, the trap is set which leads to exile, torture, madness and death.

1945 Haymarket Theatre with Peggy Ashcroft and John Gieldgud

1960 Aldwych Theatre with Peggy Ashcroft and Eric Porter

1970 Young Vic Theatre< with Dinah Stabb and Stephen Rea

1971 Royal Court Theatre with Judy Parfitt and Oliver Cotton

1981 Roundhouse with Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins

1985 NT's Lyttelton Theatre with Eleanor Bron and Ian McKellen

1990 Barbican Pit Theatre with Harriet Walter and Bruce Alexander

1995 Greenwich/Wyndham's Theatre with Juliet Stevenson and Simon Russell Beale

1996 Wyndham's Theatre with Anastasia Hille and Matthew Macfadyen

2000 Barbican Theatre with Aisling O'Sullivan and Colin Tierney

2003 NT's Lyttelton Theatre with Janet McTeer and Will Keen

2010 Greenwich Theatre with Aislin McGuckin and Tim Steed

2012 Old Vic Theatre with Eve Best and Harry Lloyd

2014 Sam Wanamaker Theatre with Gemma Arterton and David Dawson

The widowed Duchess of Malfi longs to marry her lover, the steward Antonio. But her rancorous brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, are implacably opposed to the match. When their spy, Bosola, discovers that the Duchess has secretly married and carries Antonio’s child, they exact a terrible and horrific revenge. PLEASE NOTE: Contains scenes of a sexual nature and violence.


1945 West End London Revival at the Haymarket Theatre

Opened 18 April 1945, Closed 3 August 1945 (in repertory) at the Haymarket Theatre

The cast featured Peggy Ashcroft as 'The Duchess of Malfi', John Gieldgud as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Leon Quartermaine as 'The Cardinal', Leslie Banks as 'Antonio Bologna', and Cecil Trouncer as 'Daniel de Bosola'.

Directed by Dadie Rylands (George Rylands), with sets by Roger Furse, and costumes by Beatrice Dawson.


1960 West End London Revival at the Aldwych Theatre

Previewed 14 December 1960, Opened 15 December 1960, Closed 7 January 1961 (in repertory) at the Aldwych Theatre

The cast featured Peggy Ashcroft as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Eric Porter as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Max Adrian as 'The Cardinal', Derek Godfrey as 'Antonio Bologna', and Patrick Wymark as 'Daniel de Bosola'.

Directed by Donald McWhinnie, designs by Leslie Hurry, lighting by John Wyckham, and music by Humphrey Searle.

Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company.


1970 London Revival at the Young Vic Theatre

Opened 6 October 1970, Closed 31 October 1970 at the Young Vic Theatre

The cast featured Dinah Stabb as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Arwen Holm, Neil Johnston, Bruce Myers, Hugh Portnow, Stephen Rea, Tony Sibbald, and Rowan Wylie.

Directed by Nancy Meckler, with costumes by Karen Rosten.

Presented by the Freehold Theatre Company, a London-based experimental theatre collective of actors.


1971 London Revival at the Royal Court Theatre

Opened 18 January 1971, Closed 20 February 1971 at the Royal Court Theatre

The cast featured Judy Parfitt as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Oliver Cotton as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Malcolm Tierney as 'The Cardinal', Desmond Gill as 'Antonio Bologna', and Victor Henry as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Eric Woolfe, Christine Hargreaves, and Shelia Scott Wilkinson.

Directed by Peter Gill, with designs by William Dudley.


1981 London Revival at the Roundhouse

Previewed 31 March 1981, Opened 1 April 1981, Closed 9 May 1981 at the Roundhouse

The cast featured Helen Mirren as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Mike Gwilym as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Julian Curry as 'The Cardinal', Peter Postlewaite as 'Antonio Bologna', and Bob Hoskins as 'Daniel de Bosola'.

Directed by Adrian Noble, with designs by Bob Crowley, lighting by Geoffrey Joyce, music by George Fenton, and sound by David Easterbrook and Colin Goddard.

Presented as a straight-run as part of a Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre Season at London's Roundhouse.


1985 London Revival at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre

Previewed 28 June 1985, Opened 4 July 1985, Closed 5 April 1986 (in repertory) at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre

The cast featured Eleanor Bron as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Jonathan Hyde as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Edward Petherbridge as 'The Cardinal', Greg Hicks as 'Antonio Bologna', and Ian McKellen as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Selina Cadell as 'Cariola', Simon Dutton as 'Delio', Sheila Hancock as 'Julia', Roy Kinnear as 'Castruchio', Hugh Lloyd as 'Grisolan', Stephen MacDonald as 'Pescara', Peter Needham as 'Forobosco', Dikran Tulaine as 'Silvio', Tristram Wymark as 'Roderigo', Julie Legrand as 'Lady', Claire Moore as 'Woman', and Laurance Rudic as 'Death'.

Directed and designed by Philip Prowse, with movement by Geraldine Stephenson, lighting by Gerry Jenkinson, and sound by Simon Kahn.


1990 London Revival at the Barbican Pit Theatre

Previewed 25 April 1990, Opened 1 May 1990, Closed 1 September 1990 (in repertory) at the Barbican Pit Theatre

The cast featured Harriet Walter as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Bruce Alexander as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Russell Dixon as 'The Cardinal', Mick Ford as 'Antonio Bologna', and Stephen Boxer as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Helen Blatch as 'Midwife', Judith Brydon as 'Lady', Dennis Clinton as 'Castruccio', Simon D'Arcy as 'Executioner', Ian Driver as 'Roderigo', Sally Edwards as 'Cariola', Jerome Flynn as 'Delio', Andrew Hesker as 'Grisolan', Maxwell Hutcheon as 'Count Malateste', Patricia Kerrigan as 'Julia', Craig Pinder as 'Doctor', and Peter Theedom as 'Pescara'.

Directed by Bill Alexander, with choreography by Lesley Hutchison, designs by Fotini Dimou, lighting by Wayne Dowdeswell, music by Guy Woolfenden, and sound by Andrea J Cox.

Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company.


1995 West End Revival at the Wyndham's Theatre

Previewed 9 February 1995, Opened 13 February 1995, Closed 25 March 1995 at the Greenwich Theatre

Transferred 25 April 1995, Closed 17 June 1995 at the Wyndham's Theatre

The cast at London's Greenwich Theatre and the West End's Wyndham's Theatre featured Juliet Stevenson as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Simon Russell Beale as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Robert Demeger as 'The Cardinal', Joe Dixon as 'Antonio Bologna', and Robert Glenister as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Jane Galloway as 'Cariola', Robert Goodale as 'Castruchio', Melanie Jessop as 'Julia', and Ashley Russell as 'Delio'.

Directed by Philip Franks, with designs by Tom Piper, lighting by Howard Harrison, and music by Matthew Scott.


1996 West End Revival at the Wyndham's Theatre

Previewed 27 December 1995, Opened 2 January 1996, Closed 27 January 1996 at the Wyndham's Theatre

The cast featured Anastasia Hille as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Scott Handy as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Paul Brennen as 'The Cardinal', Matthew Macfadyen as 'Antonio Bologna', and George Anton as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Shaun Parkes as 'Delio', Avril Clark as 'Cariola', Nicola Redmond as 'Julia', Matthew Bowyer, Sean Hannaway, Christopher Kell, Terence Maynard, Guy Moore, and Peter Moreton.

Directed by Declan Donnellan, with choreography by Jane Gibson, designs by Nick Ormerod, and lighting by Judith Greenwood.

Presented by Cheek by Jowl.


2000 London Revival at the Barbican Theatre

Previewed 26 October 2000, Opened 10 November 2000, Closed 18 November 2000 at the Barbican Theatre

The cast featured Aisling O'Sullivan as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Colin Tierney as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Ken Bones as 'The Cardinal', Richard Lintern as 'Antonio Bologna', and Tom Mannion as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Richard Armitage as 'Delio', Simon Chase as 'Servant to Antonio', Hannah Lockerman as 'Lady', Caroline Loncq as 'Julia', Bill Nash as 'Lord Silvio', Sara Powell as 'Cariola', Jack Power as 'Doctor'/'Lord Pescara', Daniel Singer as 'Lord Roderigo', and Ross Waiton as 'Lord Grisolan'.

Directed by Gale Edwards, with movement by Struan Leslie, sets by Peter Davison, costumes by Sue Willmington, lighting by Mark McCullough, and music by Paddy Cunneen.

Presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

This production was originally scheduled to preview from 20 October 2000, and open on 31 October 2000, for a straight-run up to 18 November 2000. Unfortunately, just prior to the start of previews, it was announced that cast illness meant that the first seven preview performances would be cancelled, with previews now starting on 26 October 2000, and with the opening night delayed to 3 November 2000. A spokesperson for the RSC said that "unfortunately illness has forced the actor Neil Dudgeon to withdrawal from the production, the part of 'Daniel de Bosola' will now be played by Tom Mannion." It was then decided, during the rescheduled preview performances, that the official opening night would be delayed again, by one week, to 10 November 2000.


2003 London Revival at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre

Previewed 18 January 2003, Opened 28 January 2003, Closed 27 May 2003 (in repertory) at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre

A major revival of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi in London starring Janet McTeer

The cast featured Janet McTeer as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Will Keen as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Ray Stevenson as 'The Cardinal', Charles Edwards as 'Antonio Bologna', Lorcan Cranitch as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Julien Ball as 'Doctor', Martin Chamberlain as 'Pescara', Eleanor David as 'Julia', Sally Rogers as 'Cariola', Jonathan Slinger as 'Delio', Michael Bernardin, Keiran Flynn, Margaret Hilder, James Howard, Eliza Lumley, Penelope McGhie, Stuart Richman, and Andrew Westfield.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, with movement by Michael Keegan-Dolan, designs by Mark Thompson, lighting by Mark Henderson, music by Gary Yershon, and sound by Simon Baker.

Presented by the National Theatre.

"The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster is one of the greatest plays in the English language, written nearly 400 years ago with a scenario of corruption, incest, revenge and lust... [At the National] this masterpiece is made to look like a dry run for The Sound of Music on a bad night at the English National Opera. Does Jacobean tragedy ever work in modern dress? Not here it doesn't, for the glory of an Italian Renaissance court shrivels to a men-in-suits power game, inexplicably stopping a widow from marrying again... Janet McTeer is a great actress, the nearest to a younger Vanessa Redgrave we have, tall and radiant, effortlessly emotional. Yet this is a dull performance, resorting to silly hysteria instead of psychological collapse... The glorious language is skidded over, often inaudibly. The play is skimpily despatched in two and a quarter hours without an interval. There are cuts all the way through, even of important minor characters, and an incomprehensible babble of an interpolated prologue." The Daily Mail

"John Webster's tragedy is arguably the greatest 17th-century play not by Shakespeare, but this modern-dress version is more of a farce than a tragedy, even if it boasts that fine actress Janet McTeer... The evening has its moments - the Duchess's strangulation is horrific and Ms McTeer's elegant stoicism in the face of death is undeniably moving, but her torture is theatre-hell: it includes video projections of her murdered family watched by her and a stage full of howling lunatics, all furiously overacting in panto mode. Poor McTeer has little room for really winning us over in a production which gives us an edited 'take' on the play rahter than the Full five-act Monty... For all the hand-guns and designer violence this drably-spoken event lacks both the glittering poetry and the sinister, torch-lit splendor of Webster's Jacobean nightmare..." The Daily Express

"It isn't the mere fact of updating that spoils Phyllida Lloyd's production but the nature of the updating - the gimmicks (such as having Duke Ferdinand eavesdrop on his sister with headphones), the video stunts, the lack of any feeling for the class distinctions - as opposed to simple power-relationships - which count for so much in the play. The whole thing has the air of a pretentious television thriller where you can't quite work out what is going on... Janet McTeer is an admirable actress, and against the odds (which include wearing a dowdy cardigan) she manages to convey something of the Duchess's dignity. Elsewhere a few lines of poetry still give off a gleam, even if they are inadequately delivered. But many others are thrown away, while others have simply been excised... All in all, a dismal demonstration of how not to do it." The Sunday Telegraph

The Duchess of Malfi in London at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre previewed from 18 January 2003, opened on 28 January 2003, abd closed on 27 May 2003 (in repertory)


2010 London Revival at the Greenwich Theatre

Previewed 18 March 2010, Opened 25 March 2010, Closed 10 April 2010 (in repertory) at the Greenwich Theatre

The cast featured Aislin McGuckin as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Tim Steed as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Mark Hadfield as 'The Cardinal', Edmund Kingsley as 'Antonio Bologna', and Tim Treloar as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Peter Bankole as 'Delio', Richard Bremmer as 'Castruchio'/'Count Malateste', Maxwell Hutcheon as 'Pescara', Harvey Virdi as 'Cariola', James Walace as 'Grisolan'/'Doctor', Conrad Westmaas as 'Silvio, and Brigid Zengeni as 'Julia'.

Directed by Elizabeth Freeston, with designs by Neil Irish, lighting by Wayne Dowdeswell, and sound by Adrienne Quartly.

A co-production between Greenwich Theatre and 'Stage on Screen'.

This production played a short season in repertory with Volpone which where both filmed and released on DVD for educational use in schools.


2012 West End London Revival at the Old Vic Theatre

Previewed 17 March 2012, Opened 28 March 2012, Closed 9 June 2012 at the Old Vic Theatre

A major revival of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi in London starring Eve Best

The cast featured Eve Best as 'The Duchess of Malfi', Harry Lloyd as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', Finbar Lynch as 'The Cardinal', Tom Bateman as 'Antonio Bologna', and Mark Bonnar as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Madeline Appiah as 'Cariola', Harry Attwell as 'Pescara', Nari Blair-Mangat as 'Rodergo', Adam Burton as 'Silvio', Vyelle Croom as 'Count Malateste', Lucy Eaton as 'Livia', Taylor James as 'Grisolan', Tunji Kasim as 'Delio', Iris Roberts as 'Julia', and Alan Westaway as 'Castruccio'/'Doctor'.

Directed by Jamie Lloyd with choreography by Ann Yee, designs by Soutra Gilmour, lighting by James Farncombe and music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham.

Eve Best's London theatre credits include 'Josie Hogan' in Howard Davies' revival of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Old Vic Theatre in 2006; the title role in Richard Eyre's revival of Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2005; 'Masha' in Katie Mitchell's revival of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 2003; 'Lavinia Mannon' in Howard Davies's revival of Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 2003; and 'Lady Macbeth' in Tim Carroll's revival of William Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in 2001.

Harry Lloyd's West End stage credits include 'Alex' in Jamie Lloyd's production of Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed at the Garrick Theatre in 2010; 'Rodolpho' in Lindsay Posner's revival of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2009; and 'Willy Carson' in Jonathan Kent's revival of Edward Bond's The Sea at the Haymarket Theatre in 2008.

Finbar Lynch's London stage credits include 'Jack' in Anna Mackmin's revival of Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa at the Old Vic Theatre in 2009; 'Alonso' in Rupert Goold's revival of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, for the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Novello Theatre in 2007; 'Boffi' in Jonathan Kent's revival of Luigi Pirandello's As You Desire Me at the Playhouse Theatre in 2005; and 'McCann' in Lindsay Posner's revival of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party at the Duchess Theatre in 2005.

Tom Bateman's West End theatre credits include 'Richard' in Trevor Nunn's revival of James Goldman's The Lion in Winter at the Haymarket Theatre in 2011: and 'Hero' in Josie Rourke's revival of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2011.

Mark Bonnar's London theatre credits include 'Duke of Orsino' in Michael Grandage's revival of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2009: and 'Ligniere' / 'Jules' in Howard Davies' revival of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre in 2004.

"Jacobean theatre, with the Catholic threat receding, loved to contemplate the horrors of Romish Europe. John Webster, with Gothic glee, created a Cardinal steeped in lust and espionage, his brother the Duke a pallid psychopath incestuously preoccupied with his widowed sister... The wonder of the play is that against the filthy darkness shines theatre's most wholesome, heroic, high-spirited heroine. Eve Best's Duchess is a perfection of laughing, blooming, sane maturity from her arrival scattering light to her defiant grief and dry humour facing death. She is dignified yet stridingly energetic, touching and humorous in her awkward proposal to the steward Antonio and laughing at her few grey hairs in fulfilled, tousled sexiness as she jokes with him and her maid. In her final terrible travails Best rises to magnificence and her 'I am Duchess of Malfi still!' echoes in my ears hours later." The Times

"The director Jamie Lloyd... throws himself into this production with all of his usual gusto, and, with its sumptuous good looks and assured performances, it works a treat. The play's obsession with class - a modern preoccupation, as Julian Fellowes's continuing success attests - and the resonances it has, too, with the spate of so-called 'honour killings' make this revival look adroitly timed. Lloyd presents it in its original language and period, on an imposing cathedral-like set designed by Soutra Gilmour. Eve Best plays the title role with affecting charm that keeps it all - just about - within the realms of believablility." The Sunday Telegraph

"A major blood transfusion, a pacemaker, even multiple organ transplants won't rescue this ailing show. A great production of John Webster's The Duchess Of Malfi should make us feel as if we are locked in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds. But there's more to it than gore. At its heart, it's a love story and a tragedy. Jamie Lloyd's darkly candlelit revival looks fabulous thanks to Soutra Gilmour's creation of a cathedral-like space of carved polished arches and gilded walkways. It begins well, with all the characters dancing, concealed beneath masks with vast noses and cowls. So far, so sinister. Eve Best's Duchess first appears in a shaft of dazzling light. She's a widow who has unwisely fallen in love with Antonio, her steward. Which wouldn't matter, if she didn't have two seriously pervy brothers who don't want her to remarry anyone... Best, a smilingly stoical Duchess in capable Kate Middleton, head-girl mode rather than as a fragile Princess Diana figure, which would have made better sense. She seems resigned to death from the word go. Admittedly, there are some chilling moments but passion is in poor supply and the production seldom thrills as Webster can and should." The Mail on Sunday

The Duchess of Malfi in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 17 March 2012, opened on 28 March 2012 and closed on 9 June 2012.


2014 London Revival at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at the Shakespeare's Globe

Previewed 6 January 2014, Opened 15 January 2014, Closed 16 February 2014 at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at the Shakespeare's Globe

The cast featured Gemma Arterton as 'The Duchess of Malfi', David Dawson as 'Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria', James Garnon as 'The Cardinal', Alex Waldmann as 'Antonio Bologna', and Sean Gilder as 'Daniel de Bosola', with Giles Cooper as 'Silvio', John Dougall as 'Castruccio'/'Doctor', Denise Gough as 'Julia', Sara MacRae as 'Cariola', Paul Rider as 'Delio, and Dickon Tyrell as 'Count Malaeste'/'Grisolan'.

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, with movement by Glynn MacDonald, choreography by Sian Williams, sets by Jonathan Fensom, costumes by Lorraine Ebdon-Price, and music by Claire Van Kampen.

This was the inaugural production at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, a new purpose built 340-seat candle-lit space built in the style of the indoor playhouses of Jacobean London.

This production was filmed and released on DVD.