The Offshoots (in Association with Lancaster University Theatre Group) has had a great deal of success over the last few years, winning plaudits from publications such as The Scotsman, British Theatre Guide and The Stage. But student theatre often gets a bad rep, especially at the Fringe. People often expect it to be self-indulgent and pant-squirmingly ‘edgy’. But it’s like going to see a little-known comedian – it’s exciting to see the unpolished diamond. After all, everyone has to start somewhere.
This interpretation of The Duchess of Malfi (a seventeenth century tragedy) is set in the smoke-filled rooms of a film noir era. We are greeted by an impressive live band, which provides both music and narration throughout. The musicians are skilled, and seem even more talented given that the score is original.
The combination of music, a starkly impressive set and beautiful costumes means that this show really does look great; it’s easy to be drawn into this underworld of cigarettes and cut-throat ambition. We are there from the second our tickets are torn.
Performances in general were strong, although sometimes lack of diction prevented lines from being fully understood. Ellie Cootes was sufficiently regal in her role as the Duchess, but I felt that at times she needed to let her royal guard down and display stronger emotions. This meant that the play’s climax was somewhat diminished and didn’t pack the punch it could have done; we need to see her heart before we can really care for her plight.
Two actors stood out: Hannah Mook as the Duchess’ maid Cariola and Mike Cole as the twisted and incestuous Ferdinand. Both of them commanded the stage and delivered each line with ferocious skill. Cole in particular was mesmerising, and even as his character sank to lower depths I couldn’t tear myself away from his eyes – looking both terrifying and terrified in equal measure.
Malfi is potentially an excellent show, but is sometimes a little too rough around the edges. However as an offering from such a young company it’s impressive. I’m sure there will be even more success for The Offshoots in the future.
At the Bedlam Theatre 11.05am until August 27th