The Duchess (of Malfi)

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until June 8

Four stars

Transferring to Citizens Theatre at Tramway, Glasgow,

September 4-21

Small Wonders

The Warehouse, Edinburgh

Until June 2

Four stars

This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Three stars

Playing Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh,

May 28 to June 1


It is only three years since Zinnie Harris left audiences stunned and exhilarated by This Restless House (her brilliant adaptation of The Oresteia by Aeschylus). Now, with her dynamic new version of John Webster’s famously brutal revenge play The Duchess of Malfi (of which she is both author and director), she reconfirms her status as a master tragedian.

Harris dedicates the play to Pauline Knowles, the outstanding actor who played an unforgettably compelling Clytemnestra in This Restless House, and who was taken from us last December at the ludicrously young age of 50. One feels certain that this Duchess, and Kirsty Stuart’s smart and vital playing of the titular lead, would have earned Knowles’s admiration.

Harris has a tremendous capacity to get to the heart of tragedy, where sex and death collide at the furthest reaches of human experience. So it is that this powerfully robust, yet beautifully poetic, modern dress version of Webster’s play plunges us directly into the most portentous of conflicts.

The Duchess (in delightfully good cheer at the passing of her unloving and unloved husband) intends to break from the blue-blooded convention of political marriages and seek happiness with her beloved steward Antonio (a superbly earnest Graham Mackay-Bruce).

However, driven by greed (the Duke’s death increases their inheritance) and empowered by misogyny, her brothers (a charlatan Cardinal and a violent madman called Ferdinand) forbid her to remarry. Spied upon by the Cardinal’s desperate, lumpen hireling Bosola (a captivatingly torn Adam Best), the Duchess’s free-spirited rejection of her siblings’ contemptible demands provokes a fearful spiral of violence.

Harris has reduced Webster’s five acts to three (bringing the play in at a little under three hours). The final act is one of the most extraordinary representations of terror I have ever seen in a theatre.

Tom Piper’s bleak, modern set (concrete walls and pillars, cage-like grills, a metal gantry) takes on the character of a Pinochet torture chamber designed by Le Corbusier. Video designer Jamie Macdonald and sound designer M J McCarthy combine to create forms of psychological torture of which the CIA’s exponents of “enhanced interrogation techniques” would be proud. Murder, when it comes, carries an appalling veracity that is rarely achieved by live drama.

The production is blessed with an excellent cast, led with memorable wit and terror by Stuart. George Costigan is magnificently despicable as the depraved Cardinal, while Angus Miller is a terrifyingly bonkers Ferdinand.

From a very adult expression of death to a beautiful broaching of it for children in London theatre company Punchdrunk’s Small Wonders. The play is in residency, in a purpose-built theatre space the company is calling The Warehouse, as part of The Edinburgh International Children’s Festival (which runs in various venues until June 2).

Created for children aged between five and 11 years old, the piece takes its young audience (and their accompanying adults) into the cluttered, Tottenham home of Nanny Lacey (Erin Geraghty). We are guided by Nanny’s daughter, Bella (Sarah Akokhia).

All is not well, however. Nanny is becoming somewhat frail in mind and body, but she is resolutely opposed to leaving her flat and moving into sheltered accommodation.

A lifelong miniaturist, she would much rather sit in her armchair and show her new friends the worlds of memory and imagination contained in the places and people she has created in her little boxes. Maybe, if we all imagine hard enough, we can go together to the enchanted forest in her favourite miniature.

Which is what we do and what follows is a superb combination of storytelling and interactive performance, in which the children are given certain tasks to perform.

The show is impressively designed, wonderfully engaging and, ultimately, deeply moving, for young and old alike.

Also playing at the Children’s Festival is This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing (a co-production by Scotland’s women and girls’ theatre company Stellar Quines and Children’s Festival producers Imaginate). Inspired by various fairytales (not least Hansel and Gretel) Finegan Kruckemeyer’s play gives voice to three girls, abandoned in the forest by their spineless father on the orders of their wicked stepmother.

The sisters go their own separate ways, pursuing very different paths (including battling with Vikings and sailing oceans in an overturned lighthouse). Their tales are related as performed narratives by Kim Allan, Rehanna MacDonald and Betty Valencia, with some help from narrator Ewan Somers (who also plays the girls’ hapless father).

Nicely performed and enchanting though it often is, Jemima Levick’s production feels a little too static much of the time. Despite some lovely design, Jean Chan’s kids’ bedroom set is too inflexible for the imaginative demands of the stories being told.

For details of The Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, visit: