At the court of the Duke of Florence, a husband must be found for Isabella, daughter to Fabritio and niece to the scheming professional widow, Livia. Guardiano, a Courtier suggests his nephew, the foolish Ward, but Isabella refuses him, and through the machinations of her aunt, the innocent Isabella is seduced by her salacious uncle, Livia’s brother Hippolito.
Leantio, a poor agent, has married Bianca, a wealthy heiress. Shortly after their union, Leantio is called back to his business, leaving his wife alone with his mother.
When the Florentine Duke catches Bianca’s eye, she too is procured by Livia whose quest for sexual power kick-starts a chain of events that will shake the foundations of polite society. She seduces the estranged husband Leantio, but their relationship is cut short when he is wounded and killed in a duel by her brother.
The newly-widowed Bianca quickly marries the Duke, and under the pretence of a play performed for their nuptials, those caught in the web of deceit and betrayal enact brutal and bloody revenge on each other.
Hippolito - Raymond Coulthard
Fabritio - James Hayes
Messenger - Samuel James
Isabella - Vanessa Kirby
Duke of Florence - Richard Lintern
Ward - Harry Melling
Lord Cardinal - Chu Omambala
Bianca - Lauren O’Neil
Mother - Tilly Tremayne
Livia - Harriet Walter
Guardiano - Andrew Woodall
Obviously the audience found the first act very hard going as there were quite noticeable absentees after the interval (it is a very complicated plot, admittedly), although the two American women next to me might have found it easier to follow had one of them stopped playing with her Blackberry and the other refrained from doodling on a Starbucks napkin all the way through. There is an extremely badly misjudged attempt at a comedy interlude halfway through the second act which grates badly with the rest of the piece, and the plot takes an unsympathetic and incredible (in the original sense of the word) turn when Livia falls for Leantio and pursues him like a cross between a preying mantis and Lady Bracknell stalking a butterfly. It was only in the final five minutes or so that the blood-and-guts really started spilling in a wonderfully baroque piece of staging as the servants metamorphosed into black-winged Angels of Death attendant on a masque where poison, knives and garrottes were deployed with abandon. If only the rest of the production had been like these last few minutes, then the entire night wouldn't have felt like such a waste of time. As it is, this was far too clinical, too anodyne and not nearly decadent enough. I predict a flop. Beware Women Beware Women!