Tag Archives: Shanaya Rafaat

“The White Devil” at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

John Webster’s play is a textbook Jacobean revenge tragedy, circling around an adultery that engenders murders in Italian courts riven with plots and poison. It’s a play about rage and, with emotions boiling (it’s lust not love on offer), needs the strong hand provided here to create a rollicking evening that should satisfy any bloodlust while providing plenty to think about.

Director Annie Ryan shows no qualms about dealing with Webster’s text. Tidying up, with the help of Michael West, the poetry is retained while twists and turns in the plot are treated with ruthless efficiency during a swift two- and-a-half hours. There’s no sweetening the disgusting misogyny. With ahistorical steam punk touches to a scene of sorcery (“quaintly done”, indeed), there’s the warning that prejudice and violence are a perennial threat.

It’s satisfying that a policy of balanced gender casting works so seamlessly. Kate Stanley-Brennan shines in her starring role of Vittoria, particularly in the scene of her murder trial, a riveting combination of indignation and cunning. And it’s good to see Shanaya Rafaat doing well as the servant Zanche, with a writhing physicality that terrifies. Also gratifying is the part of Vittoria’s young stepson, which cleverly uses the skills of Mollie Lambert.

Jamie Ballard as Bracciano
Jamie Ballard as Bracciano

Perhaps Ryan’s embrace of Webster’s black humour is her biggest achievement. Incredulous moments are made funny – we’re going to laugh anyway – with the instant calls for revenge dealt with superbly by Jamie Ballard’s manic Bracciano. This adulterous, murdering Duke isn’t the only engaging villain on offer. Indeed, even the single sympathetic character, Vittoria’s “virtuous” brother Marcello (a good turn from Jamael Westman) falls victim to his own impetuous anger. His fate provides a pause for thought and pace, with the play’s one moment of compassion boldly handled.

Ahead of the plotting gentry and papacy (a great role here for Garry Cooper as a suave clergyman) is Flamineo, delivered with spectacular charisma by Joseph Timms, whose energy and impeccable delivery garner laughs and excitement. Timms makes his pandering and posturing crook the arch evil in a play with no shortage of demons. There are devils all around, a bewilderingly “catalogue of knaves”, and Ryan deals with them all brilliantly. Her patience with the play is truly saintly.

Until 16 April 2017


Photos by Marc Brenner

“Around The World In 80 Days” at the St James Theatre

A rip-roaring comedy adventure that’s a thrill a minute, Laura Eason’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s story makes perfect family entertainment. Phileas Fogg’s race around the world – the result of a bizarre bet based on his confidence in Bradshaw’s guide and Victorian travel – is an extravaganza that keeps kids of all ages enraptured.

As an English gent of the Empire era, Fogg, a character created by a French novelist and adapted by an American playwright, provides laugh-out-loud moments for grown ups. A master of understated observation, Robert Portal is perfect in the lead, with the “mathematical precision” his character lives by making a romance with Mrs Aouda (Shanaya Rafaat) all the more endearing. Fogg is more interested in whist than tourism, taking derring-do in his stride. And all in a top hat. There’s plenty of fun with accents and just four actors take on all the extra roles – bravo! But it’s the superb physical comedy that marks the show. Fogg’s valet Passepartout’s punches alone make Simon Gregor a big hit.

There are escapades on an elephant, jungle rescues, sledges and a shoot out in the American Wild West. In the background, providing even more jokes, is a warrant for Fogg’s arrest following him around the world. Tony Gardner is superb as Inspector Fix (the clue’s in the name) observing that Scotland Yard has sent its best man to solve a robbery at the Bank of England… “as well as myself”.

Director Lucy Bailey inspires awe with her talents. Revelling in the mechanics of theatre, with trapdoors and tricks to make the show magical, her craft is clear to see. Showing us the world, while emphasising the theatre’s intimate scale, Bailey co-opts our own imaginations marvellously. Speed is of the essence, and Eason brings out the pace, but it’s Bailey who is in charge of punctuality here and, like Fogg, she is spot on time.

Until 17 January 2016

Photo by Simon Annand

“The Malcontent” at the White Bear Theatre

The Malcontent is a Jacobean revenge drama by John Marston. It could easily be a dry text, of mainly academic interest, but is handled as a thriller by the Custom/Practice Company at Kennington’s White Bear Theatre. In just 90 minutes improbable plot twists and court intrigues are rocketed through, making the play engaging and entertaining.

Marston’s Malcontent, Malevole by name, just to make things clear, is a divided character, appropriate since he is really a disguised Duke residing at his rival’s court. Parading as “more discontent than Lucifer”, his “fetterless” tongue is allowed licence at court just as a fool would be in Shakespeare, and he sets out to cause trouble and expose hypocrisy. It’s just a shame that he ends up being a bit wet. Adam Howden gives the role his very best – flamboyant as the cynic and convincing as the dashing Duke. And Howden isn’t the only talent that the casting directors present on the evening I attended should take note of.

The production does suffer from a common fringe complaint – a uniformly young cast. Although it is cruel to pick out one example, you couldn’t encounter a less likely candidate for gout than the slender Richard Kiess. It’s jarring: yet his is a fine performance that shows commendable comic skills. Lorenzo Martelli plays the new Duke fluently and there is a startling performance from Shanaya Rafaat as Maquerelle, a lady-in-waiting who serves the court’s vice needs, arranging assignations and lusting after bodies and money herself. Rafaat is spirited and riveting.

Accolades must also go to Rae McKen, whose direction is a force to be reckoned with. Clearly undaunted by the language, she presents the plot with admirable clarity, skilfully avoiding the play’s pitfalls, including its occasionally pious tones – this sexy, pacy production really grips you.

Until 11 December 2011


Written 26 November 2011 for The London Magazine