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2004incognito

'The director and adapter of the play, Andrew J. Robinson, allows the play's theatricality and pace to dominate the drama. Moments of the comedy sit comfortably within the framework of a tragedy which includes incest, rape and poisoning. the final scene sees an uncomfortable number of dead bodies littering the stage, but the energy of the production prevents its spiral into black farce. [...]

The overall effect of Robinson's adaptation is to highlight the accessibility of Middleton's text, whereby complicated plot devices are interwoven into a dramatic and entertaining whole.

This production highlights the strength of the women characters in the play. Livia, the courtier bawd who provides her sumptuous home for the seduction and rape of the innocent citizen's wife, Bianca, is remarkably hard and resilient in her male-dominated environment. Bianca, although shockingly disturbed by her rape at the hands of the Duke, immediately hardens herself to her new found social status as the Duke's concubine, and makes the transition from object of lust to poisoner with dramatic ease. Isabella, the niece to Livia, is also wiling and able to enter a farcical marriage with the foolish gallant, the Ward, the better to gain access to her uncle, Hippolito. Isabella's incestuous relationship with Hippolito is morally acceptable because Isabella freely accepts a fanciful tale of indiscretion between her mother and a Spanish Marquis. The male anxiety of nurturing the child of another man is well represented, and its moral consequences are shown to be far reaching. A fourth woman is the innocent Mother to Leantio and mother-in-law to Bianca, who unwittingly colludes in the rape of her son's wife by accepting the flattering invitation of the socially superior Livia. [...]

As this production is performed by a cast of sixteen actors, there is no need for doubling. An interesting directorial decision is to create a group of three Ladies of court. These Ladies also act as maids and servants throughout the play, and finally fulfil their original function as the three deities, Hymen, Hebe, and Ganymede in the masque dénouement. In Middleton's text the deities are two male and one female character, but the addition of these three Ladies to the current production serves to provide a comic, mostly unspoken, commentary on the action around them. Looks and giggles at the fanciful behaviour of their masters, the well-executed stage business which muddles the poisoned and unpoisoned goblets, and the humorous incredulity at the discovery of several stabbed and poisoned bodies in V.ii. help to involve the audience in a surprisingly immediate way.

Lavish costumes int he Jacobean style make instantly recognisable statements as to the social standing, or social pretensions, of their wearers. The skillful use of twenty-first century material from India, crafted into lace-necked bodices and hooped gowns, creates a colourful and believable Italian court. The intimacy of the Incognito Theatre itself ensures that the proscenium stage does not impose its own restrictions on performance.'

Kevin Quarmby, RORD 44 (2005), 136-7