During rehearsals for The Duchess of Malfi Assistant Director Alex Moxon sat down for a chat with some of the cast as part of our new Insight Pack for schools. This online education resource helps classes engage more closely with the play but also makes a great read for theatre fans.
Beatriz Romilly plays the Duchess:
Alex: What attracted you to the play?
Beatriz: I like the gore and the immediacy, the work does not apologise for the brutality. I also like that it has a heroine, who has such a big journey.
Alex: What are your initial thoughts about your character?
Beatriz: I like that she is human and has flaws. The hard part for me is finding her faith, I (not the character) am not religious but the world of the play is one driven by faith and it can be hard to relate to her in this way. I like her strength, she is relatable and I think the audience can understand her choices. I admire her ability to see the good in everyone and to be hopeful. I also think she is fairly lonely at court, she only has Antonio and Cariola, which she can only be herself with in private.
Alex: How is her relationship with Cariola and Antonio?
Beatriz: Cariola is like a sister, a best friend, whom she has no secrets. They are very close and to lose her is a massive loss. In Antonio, she has found what true love is. She loves him for who he is. He is a good person, although he has his flaws. She always takes the lead in their relationship, she makes all the decisions. It is not an arranged marriage, she loves him totally and always has.
Patrick Brennan plays the Cardinal:
Alex: What are your initial thoughts about the play?
Patrick: I think it’s the most exciting of Jacobean plays. It feels very modern; even though it’s written in verse the dialogue is snappy. I think it’s kind of the original Game of Thrones; high stakes, passion, fear, blood loyalty, murder and sex.
Alex: What’s your relationship to the play?
Patrick: I have been in it twice, once on the radio as Antonio and once as an executioner, which was in my very first year of drama school, when the late Natasha Richardson played the Duchess. As much as I love Shakespeare, I think of this as the heavy metal of Jacobean theatre, it has real strength and guts.
Alex: What do you think is the Cardinal’s motivation for controlling the Duchess?
Patrick: My main motivation is family loyalty and power. If he can have control over who the Duchess marries, he maintains control of the family, being the oldest brother. He is the controlling male figure in the family.
Rehearsal photography by Sheila Burnett.
Alex: What is the Cardinal’s relationship with Ferdinand?
Patrick: He is the older brother of Ferdinand and in some ways is like a father. He has given up his right to the Dukedom and passed this to his younger sibling mainly because he believes there is more power to be had by being a Cardinal, or even a Pope as early on in the play it states how he tried to bribe his way to this position. He feels by placing Ferdinand as Duke and himself as Cardinal, his power stretches further, he is keeping it in the family and they have influence in more places. That’s also the main reason he does not want the Duchess to remarry without his consent, he does not want his power, control and wealth being dissolved by another family.
Alex: What are the differences between the Cardinal and Ferdinand?
Patrick: The Cardinal thinks before he acts, whilst he has strong emotions, he does not like to display them and prefers non-demonstrative reactions. He controls under pressure rather than the hot headed instinct that motivates Ferdinand. Ferdinand is definitely impulsive, unlike the Cardinal.
To read more interviews with members of the cast and creative team, including director Fiona Buffini, download our Duchess of Malfi Insight Pack.
The Duchess of Malfi runs at Nottingham Playhouse from Fri 30 Oct to Sat 14 Nov.