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By John Webster

Claire Vincent & Tony 0' Callaghan direct for the Kelvin Players, Redgrave Theat re, Clifton, Bristol.

Janua ry 199B. H av ing spen t a ll our time w ith Kelvin as ,1ctors (some five years), we d ecid ed that we wo uld like to spend some time on the other s id e of the knce, creating and mou ld ing a production, being the player ,1nd not the ins trumen t. As close fri ends and knowing our views and critics of plays W,15 simibr, lVe dec id ed to share the direction, h opi ng (perhaps na ively) that this would lighten the load. Our desire was to d o so me thing different, something tha t i;0t the heart pumping and pro ved challen ging for actors and directo rs alike. We both love classical thea tre and looked to J,1cobea n/Eli zabe th an wo rk a nd plumped for Th c Whil e DClIii by Jo hn Webster, a tra gedy in the true mea ning of the word. There was a little concern from some corners of the club about the choice o f play but we wa nted to prove that the re was an a udience out there for this kind o f theatre. TI1is was not going to be easy with a cast of 25 characters to find , 30 cos tum es to d eci d e upon and la nguage requirin g ca reful consideration and interpreta ti on . What had we le t ourselves in for?!

is he ld on trial by Camillo's uncle, C'!I1.i inal Monticci so, for the death of her husband, but is only fo und guilty of being a n adulterer and sent to the Hou se of Penitent Whores. Franscisco, the brother to Isa be ll " begins his revenge on Ilr,1chianno for the d eath of hi s sis ter, w ith th e assis ta nce of Lod ovico, it villainous Count who was in love with Isabella. Tensions are high and fl"mineo kills hi s ow n brother, th e vi rtuous MiIl'cello, lea v in g hi s mother, Co rne lia distraught and she eventually goes mad. Brachianno is poisoned and Vi ttoria, her d ece iving ma id Za nche and Flamineo all die a t

and so on and th is stood us in goo d stead w hen we C<1me to mov<, the pla y as characte rs were already real ,1 nd d efined. There are few morall y good characters in th is Flay, Flamin eo bein s particularly evi , hating wom en ye t secre tly in love w ith his own sister, bitter, twis ted and a d ream of a pa rt. With out thi s character being s trong the w hole play falls apa rt and we were luc ky to have an experienced actor to pl,1y this role, giving the character not on ly underl ying evi l but charisma, humour and aDove a ll beli evabilitv. O ur other leads, Vittoria and' Brachianno, needed to be

Excluding the characte r work, we had e ight wee ks of rehea rsa ls. In the ea rl y stages we orga nised quick 20-minu te warm up sessions consisting of m oveme nt and games run b y the C,1st membe rs. This he lped wa rm everybody up during those co ld w inter days and e ncouraged everyone to ge t to know each other a nd feel comfo rtable. These workshops got everyo ne in the mood and the rehearsa ls in the main were fun. Blocking was usua lly the most frustrating a nd ti me cons uming, eve n th ough most of the blocking was worked o ut before h and , g iv ing entrance s an d exits a nd any impo rtant moves, the res t was worked thro ugh with th ose at rehearsals, ensurmg that a ll actors were comfortab le w ith their moves a nd to some extent the moves were na tural to them .

October 1998. Our first challenge was to edit the scrip t, as good as the play \vas, it "vas son1 e four and iI harf hou rs and the refore some serio us edi ting needed to be d one. With enormous help from one of our m embers, a Webster buff, this was achiev ed before the read-through too k place. Read- th rough and auditions were se t for the beginning of November (o pening nig ht being 3 March 1999). How many would show up to the audition? \Nhat if the rumours of uncertainty about th e play were ri<>ht> VVere we to fall a t the firs t hurtle? A couple tri ckled in fo r tll e read-through bu t th en the flo od ca me and nea rl y 50 people turned up . Auditions turned o ut to be grea t fun, w ith a total of 40 people auditioning over 3 sessions. The cas ting proved to be very hard but once made our cast was an excellent one, from the lead to the odd 5-line character, not one wc,1k link out of a cast of 20 (we d oubled up a few smaller roles).

PLOTANDC~ The s tory revolve s around a famo us and hi s tori c co urtesa n, Vittoria Corombona, mill'ried to a path eti c husbilnd, Camillo, who w as not as wealthy as Vittoria has supposed. So she begins an affair with a Duke, I3rac hia nno who is "I so married, to Isabella . I3ra chianno's secretary and brother to Vittoria , Fla mineo , encourages the re lationship as it w ill be finan ciall y to his be nefi t (so h e believes). Vitto ria and Brachianno plot to di spose of the ir spouses a nd wi th the assi stance of Flamineo bo th a rc murdered , Flaminco brea king Cam illo's neck and Isabella be ing p oisoned by the das tardly Doctor. With us so far? This an gers the famili es of the dea d spouses and revenge ens ues. Vittoria


w as very memorable. CorneJia , was virtuous yet forthright and gave us a memorable and enjoyable mad scene. Zanche gave a silent, brooding and nas ty Moor w hose fac ia I ex pressions clearly show ed the quic k a nd mani pulative mind that lay behind th e beautiful face . There were a number of small pa rts a nd they were a ll pl ayed w ith co n v ic tion and commit ment even thou gh they we re on for such a short time; there was the mem o rable buffoon of a la wye r, played brilliantly b y one of our long足 s tanding members and a new member, femal e, took on a male part as the son of Brachianno and Isabella, giv ing us at the beginning a naive and swee t-natured boy who grew up in front of our eyes as he (she) mourned the death of his m other - moving stuff.

the sword of Lodo vico who is ta ken away to torture and pri son for his deeds - phew !! Sha kespeare's infl uences o n Webster are ve ry evident in thi s play with clear references to the Three Weird Sis ters from MaeiJel.iT, Ophelia's madness in HamIel, and the charac ter of Flamineo having ve ry clea r influe nces from the chara cter of lago in Olhello . With the language difficulty, the re la tionships we re not instantaneously defined and before rehearsals proper we spent a couple of eve nings wi th cast members di sc u ss in g their charac ters. We wanted everyone to fee l comfortab le with w ho they were, what th ei r chara cter was looking for, thei r relatio ns hips with other characters

very strong a nd our Vittoria gav e us a wom a n who was headstrong and clever and o ur Brachianno ga ve us a larger than li fe characte r with an ego to match. Our Fra nsc isco and Monticciso we re strong a nd forceful w ith s ubtle tension and crea ted a grea t rela tionship between each other as the ave ng ing fa milies. Su pp orting characters gave LI S exce ll ent characterisa tio n with Marcello being suitably vi rtll ous and Lod ovico giving LIS a cla ssic ang ry, sexy yo un g man, the p erfec t pirate Count. Our Isabella was m od est an d ea rnest but wi th underlying anger grown from fru s tration of her circums tances. Cami llo is usua lly cast as an older man but we C,1St someone close r to Vittoria's age and he ga ve us a sad pathetic almos t nerd y character w ho, although only on stage a short time.

Extra, more rigid, blocking was requi red for so me scenes, the dumb show showing the deaths of Ca millo and Isabe ll a, the death of Brachianno, the cou rt scene and the deaths of Camillo and Isabella, the d eath of Brachiarmo, the court sce ne and the d ea ths of Fla min eo, Vittoria and Zan che. The dumb show was set t(1 music a nd h ad to be compJe teh choreographed and th e actors were excellen t a t taking instructio ns and carrying them out without ques tion How ever, naturally some qllestionin ~ from cast took place and we a lw ar ' spent tim e di scu ss ing issues and co ncerns ens uring the actors felt co mfortable . There was hardly am moment w hen we had to pull rank a" di rectors, which was grea t m足 everyo ne was therefore com mitted I. w hat th ey were d oin g a nd thi , s howed in the final week. We found ourse lves continuing to u . the script throughout reh ear""l, w hich was frustrating for some of I cas t as they ha d lea rnt their lin before rehearsals eve n bega n. Tr. cast co ped well with the lanllu '" and ab und ance of m oves ,1I1d I rehea rsals were all in all, 10 0 back. th e most enjoyable tim wh ole produ cti on.


Another rath er technica l arei! play was that o f sword fightin"


eI'C lucky tha t two ()f our cas t '- "pericf1ce in this orca and c ril phed the fights for us, using . ' wood until a week before the when we were able to get ho ld '" >words. The fi ghts, particularly One in w hich Fbmineo kil[s larccllo, were hear t stopping st uff n worked well with the audience 1\ ing evcry minute of it. O ur p [,111 to split re hearsa ls between .1< did not pan out since once the play '~iln and adrenaline pumped, we bo th w,lnted to be a part of it a[1. It W itS wonderfu l to see t[1(' whole thing orne to life a nd we weren't going to li"s ,lilY of it. We ended up making nluch 1110re work for ourse lvC's (lS v\'e \ \"cre in~ist(:'nt on no t makin g any d~ cisions

alone, the'y had to be joint

'::'-0 W~ spe nt cl lmost all our tim e on the

ph one or meeting for lunch to discuss the p[ilY and ilny probl('ms or issues, The time tha t co-directing worked in Oll r favour \NaS \.v hcn one of us \-vas

taken ill and the other WilS still able to be at re hearsa ls, en s uri ng that things moved fnnvard.

Our set was spli t level ilnd raked. Wi th the assis tance of our extremel y artistic and clever stage d eS igner, Doc Co [liel~ we used up pretty much the whole stilge, We ha ve neve r seen the Redgrave st,' ge look so big. Both of us dis like the usc of huge flats, they mov e ilnd block light and so we dis pensed with this notion s tra ight ilway. We created a three dimension,ll feel w ith the sp lit lev ds and rilking. We had a high stag ing M ea at the back with [Mge s teps to centre stage. Down each s ide of the s til ging area \'\fere raked 'nnns' \<\rhich were placed in an arc sha pe each side, a bit [ike pince rs of il crab. The back area was over six feet high wi th the 'claw' ends of the rake being only 6 inches high. To brea k this up we had large red curta ins fl own in which co uld be pulled up to produce an awning or left down creating two red columns cutting direc tly through the set. In order to represent the chilos of this play, the w hole construction of the set was angu lar and off line, no thing mll tched, each 'arm ' \""llS il diffe rent leve [ and th e curtains were of diffe ring heights. The set was pa le gre'y splattered with g ree ns, blu es, blacks and dMk greys. The colouring proved very difficult to get right; we wanted the paleness to accentu a te the corners and a ngular shad ows created by the se t but we didn't want it too dark as then the lig htin g would be needed to be bright - this was " dilrk play' It took two days to get the colour right and we thought it wasn 't going to dry at all before opening ni ght. To finish off the colour we sp lashed deep red pain t in the three sp ots where the deaths occur. We did co nsi de r us in g rea [ blood during the death scc nes but it

prove d difficult due to hire regulati on s for th e costumes "nd therefore we wen t on representation instead, The blood sp lashes were on stage th e whole time and toge the r with the curtains, it gave a foreboding sense of doom before any actor had even ste pped on to the set. A[though tile' set was s imple we did have oill' tec hnicality to overcome, th(' appearance of ghos ts. Lighting obv iou s ly was to playa part, but the light had to be an up[ighte r <lIl d therefore we needed a g rill or a trilp d oo r built into th e set. Our d es igner ca me lip with a silen t trap door which was pulled back in a blacked out area of the stage jlls t before the ghost's entrCl nce so no audience membe r noticed it until the light hit the ghos t with classic smoke and eerie music. We were very kee n th " t the sight of the ghost would not be too hammy and with the excellent technica l s kills of our se t ,lnd lighting d esigner, the ghosts proved to be w ry e ffective and atmosphe ric.


We wa nted a ve ry minimal set and as few changes as poss ible so the use of furniture was kept to a minimum. . However we co uld not cut corn e rs on the look of the furniture and with the help of the Bristol Old Vic Prop s d epartme nt our furniture was a ll reprodu ction Jacobean which worked we ll. We struggled w ith o ur bud ge t he re illld could not a fford a 11 we req uired so for the co urt scene we used repro furniture for the chairs but did not know what to do for a tab le at which Monticelso and Franscisco sat. One night, in a fit of Carol Smi lie from Changing Rooms, we grabbed one o f the club's trestle tables , ,lnd a couple of o ld velvet g reen and rcd curtain s and went wild with a s taple gun and a very convincing, courtly table WilS p roduced - amazing what Ciln be don e w he n time and mo ney a re running o ut' Props again required authenticity w ith sword s, da ggers, pistols and real flame torches, again the Bris tol Old Vic came u p trumps here, We also need ed books, quills, p oison bottles, masks, candles etc and the cas t and crew came up trumps digging deep finding u s vc ry authentic looki ng item s.

COSTUMES INc were lucky to have an excel[en t

costume ma nager, Graham Ecck-s, who has studied fashion and was ho t on ""hat was Clnd \vas no t JacobeC1 n. Costumes were the largest part of our budget as we wa nted them to be spot on and who else can you go to for tha t but th Roya l Shakespeare Company in Stratford. When Gra ha m telephoned them and ad vised them that IV<' were d oing Th" While D(>vil th e ir comment was 'gos h, you're b rave' - thi s would be very true in weeks to come. However, wi th Grahclnl, we s pen t two Saturdays ilt the RSC meas uring and choos ing nea rly 30 costumes. It was wonderful fun, particu larly w hen you found cos tumes be longi ng to the likes of Sian Phillips, Charles Dance and Bri an Blessed.

One snag was that we seemed to have CilSt the most voluptuo us actress in Bristo[ ,l nd many of the cos tumes were too s mall in the bust, but a ft e r much searchin g ("nd som e squeezing ) we found w hat we were


loo king fo r an d they loo ked wonderful. By luck r"th e r than judgen1cnt \ve nl.,ln(lged a go ld/red /b lack and brown theme which matched beauti fu[ly with the set. The cast tho roughl y enjoyed w ear ing the m, particularly the Cardinal w ith his ski rts which he sw is hed Mound as if he had been weMing them all his life (we' re sure there is a s tory there') . It was at this point that both us began to envy the cast but we cou ldn 't d well for long as by this time the costumes were read y we were in the clos ing furlong.

These went very much together and we were luck y to ha vE' a very experienced lightin g des igner, Andy Bromsgrove, and were approa ched by a mu sic student from the University who asked us if he co uld write our music for us. We wanted a very vis ual and atmosphE'ric lighting a nd so und plot and we tllercfore used many effec ts and cues. The technical crew nearly ran from the theil tre when we told them that the re were 150 cues. Our s tage manager went visib ly grey at this point bu t when We saw the li ghting come il live on the dress rehears,, [, the operators in the box forgave us for the stress we put them ugh. One of the mai n the mes was the rep resenta tion of death and as said e~ rlie r we had dispe nsed wi th the use of rea l blood by actors so added to the blood red paint across the s tage, we used red fla shes of lig ht w hen each person died. With the p" le set and dark costumes it wo rked wonderfu ll y. We used stark lighting for the scenes in the house of convertites and pale s traw coloured lighting for daytime scenes. Blues illld greens were u sed for scenes at ni g ht a nd And y provided us w ith a wonde rful w indow gobo [it on the cyc and the fl oo r fo r the co urt scene which was a v isually stunning des ign. Music was intermingled in be tween all of this i1nd was very importa nt durin g the dumb show which had to be sct completely to music. The use of li ghting was also very important here a nd enhanced the ominous mood of this scene. We also used a stacato li ghting e ffect for the d ea th of Camillo as he was pushed from the steps to his death by Flamineo - the actors moved in a black o ut and stood stationory when the lights came up crea ting a s low motion effect, added to this was the ominou s sou nd o f drums beating and it required preci se timing from technical and acting crew alike. We were very pleased with the dfeoct throughout. Sadly our musical composer was no t able to give us all the music we required (we were very d em"ndi ng) so we chose Mmospheric mus ic from Adcimus and Va nge lis in addition to that w ritten for us. We on ly had two so und affects bei ng bells and the gun shot from the pistols. The bell sounds ca me co urtesy of th e BBC sound librMy. We co uld not fire the guns producin g the smoke which would ha ve been authentic so we aga in reverted to representational light ing with a quick fla s h o f stark w hite light cued with th e sou nd of the gun shot­ it proved very e ffective. Although the outcome for lighting and sound was good it did no t come

with some cons iderable heartache . The technica l rehearsa l neve r really hilppe ned, al tho ugh we were there w ith the technical crew all day in read iness for the ca sts arrivill, we hild trouble w ith the curtains, the lighting plot took longer th an planned and the sound plot wa s still not sta rted by 9.00 pm (t his fin a ll y bei ng compJeted at 4.00 am in the morning). We th erefore abandoned a tech nical rehearsal and had to do a tech and dre ss togeth er w hich was rath er worrying as we had very little tim e to correc t anything whi ch didn't work. Lucki[y it a ll slotted into p lilce beautiti.llly. On the whole w e were very happy but the re we re a couple of sound cues that d id n't work iln d we rea lised that we should have plotted th e so und on two minidiscs ra the r than one so that cues co uld fad e in a nd out more smoo thly. H owever, the final plots for both worked very well and provided us w ith w hilt we wanted, an om inou s an d ten se a tmosphere,

PUBLf,CITV Thi s producti on we knew would prove to be more difficult to sell th at o thers that Kelvin had produced as it is no t that well known and we therefore pul[ed ou t a [[ the s tops. Luck w as on our side as the build up to the week of the run co incided with Oscar nom inations for Shakespeilre In Love, In the film , John Webste r (our playwrig ht) "ppears as a characte r, and thi s link brought us two radio intervie ws and a slo t on the BBC's loca [ nigh tly n ews. We also managed a large front cove r picture on a small loca [ pape r and a nice piece in the Bristol Evening Post, the paper covering the entire Avon and So merset area . This proved to be very effective w hen we began counting the heads in the auditorium every night.

CONCL SION Th e White Devil turned out to be a mammoth production w ith a la rge cas t and a very technical lighting and a udio plot but when we sat in the auditorium on th e firs t ni ght and watched it, we were d eli g hted . Audi ences were heard in the intervill and after the s how ques tioning w hether Kelvin were il professional compa ny and p ra isin g the choice of pia y as well as the prod LLction itself and ·this was mos t sat isfy ing. There may have been a co up le of tears a nd a moment during the final stages whe n we wondered wha t on earth hild we started but.. in th e end it was wond erful, the acting, the lighting, the cos tumes a nd of course the audi ences reac tion. It was a tota [ team effort from the beginn ing to end "nd by the end, alth ou gh we were thoroughl y ex hau sted we were delighted that it had gone so we ll and that thi s brillian t b ut sadly rare performed play was able to be seen and enjoyed by so ma ny.



The White Devil - September 1999  

Kelvin Players discuss their production of The White Devil by John Webster

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