One of Thomas Middleton’s 17th Century Jacobian Dramas was resurrected recently by theatre students in UWA’s English and Cultural Studies.
UWA professor, Steve Chinna directed this production of Women Beware Women, for the first time since it was last performed at the university in 1982. He selected a reworking of the original piece by none other than contemporary English playwright, Howard Barker.
The composition of the play comprises of two parts; the first half remains faithful to Middleton’s revenge tragedy in terms of plot and dialogue, whereas the last act consists of Barker’s stylistic adjustments.
He ultimately explores the enduring connection between death and sexual desire (which Barker justifies construct the basis of tragedy). Barker relies on humour in his “Theatre of Catastrophe” to explore characters disengaged from society.
The story deals with seduction, abandonment, incest and deceit. Originally, Middleton ensured a number of characters die as was tradition; they were unable to overcome their flaws. This achieves some moral reconciliation; however, the alternative ending conceived by Barker is undoubtedly more gripping for 21st Century audiences.
Amongst a sea of colourful language, a collectively favourite quote for the evening was, “You wadding bag of rheumatism and sinking flesh! Can’t you get enough out of life?” And so the intellectual wit of Barker continues for another 60 minutes. Ironically, the only character who is killed in Barker’s version is Sordido, the sole individual who is consistently true to himself; he never intends to deceive others and is precisely what he claims to be.
As for direction, performances and costumes; I have no negative remarks to make. The play was engaging and often hilarious; and I was particularly impressed by the professionalism of the entire cast. The big question which remains is whether the young Bianca is “seduced” or is it in actual fact, rape? The underlying misogyny in the 1621 version is theatrically ridiculed in the modernised act. By deconstructing the play and turning it on its head, Barker clarifies that Bianca was in fact raped; perhaps enabling him to achieve his own moral satisfaction.
By Grace McKie
Photography by Louisa Ong