A stylish and seductive Women Beware Women at the National this evening directed by Marianne Elliott and cleverly designed by Lez Brotherston, who brilliantly uses the revolve to take us in and out of the royal palaces, and backstairs subterfuges of Florentine society. It's a world that spirals around central images of power and authority - a dominating crucifix or stunning chandelier - creating, in the vast space of the Olivier, the cynical sense that power and money are both natural pursuits and inevitably corruptive forces.
It's a brutal play of deceit and crushed hope as beautiful young heiress and wife Bianca is tricked into having sex with the Duke. To her surprise rather than filling her with revulsion, the encounter offers her possibilities for influence beyond her imagination and so begins a brilliant dissection of the complexities of lust, submission and reward. There's something very attractive about fortune.
There are some cracking performances from Samuel Barnett as the cuckolded husband, Leantio, Andrew Woodall as the ambitious sleazebag courtier Guardino and Harriet Walter as the desirous aristocrat, Livia, cheerfully pandering opportunity, manoeuvring and matchmaking for her own strategic advance and sexual fulfilment.
A thrilling dance macabre ends the show as the masked ball to celebrate the Duke's marriage to Bianca disintegrates under the machinations, plots and counter plots into a carefully choreographed orgy of decadent sacrifice.
With the stage littered by corpses it's left to the Cardinal to denounce the adulterous behaviour of his brethren and in what must have been a direct, and prophetic, challenge to the Jacobean court warns against the corrosive forces of absolute power and divine rights.