But underneath the gilt lurks a dark hive of corruption and, as the widowed young Duchess falls foul of her evil brothers (the Cardinal and the unstable, incestuously inclined Duke Ferdinand) by secretly marrying her steward, the set turns ominously gloomy and murder lurks in its shadows.
In the eyes of her siblings, hers is a double sin – not only has she married against their explicit command but she has chosen to wed beneath her.
Apart from Eve Best’s warm and increasingly dignified central performance, though, the set is where the subtlety ends. Elsewhere, Webster’s vivid language is delivered in a declamatory style which wearies as the tragic tale unfolds and the gruesome body count rises.
Mark Bonnar’s malcontent Bosola holds forth loudly in a heavy Scottish accent which, whilst emphasising his position as an outsider, also renders him an unlikely spy in the Duchess’s household.
Still, the leather sling, worn of necessity by Finbar Lynch’s scheming, red-robed Cardinal after a real-life accident, renders even more chilling his one-armed determination to exterminate whoever gets in his way, and Jamie Lloyd’s production is consistently clear if not always involving.
Old Vic, The Cut, SE1 8NB
Until June 9
– Louise Kingsley