The Duke In Darkness At The Tabard Theatre

Well-crafted, elegant play says our reviewer Penny Flood


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Book online at or 020 8995 6035 Tabard Theatre, 2 Bath Road, Chiswick, W4 1LW

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The Duke in Darkness is set in sixteenth century France in a small room in a castle where two men, the Duke of Laterraine and his servant Gribaud, have been imprisoned for 15 years. Time has taken its toll on Gribaud’s mind and he unravels before our eyes. Suddenly, freedom becomes tangible when someone meant to guard them offers a way out – but can they believe him?

What follows in this well-crafted, elegant play is the exploration of one man’s dilemma and its intertwining with the future of a nation. It has some stunning performances, especially from Michael Palmer as the Duke of Laterraine and Jamie Treacher as Gribaud, who are centre stage much of the time.

Patrick Hamilton’s original script has been adapted by Orlando Wells, who has shifted the focus away from Hamilton’s more political work, which reflected its origin in 1944 at the time of the Nazi occupation of France. Wells has tweaked the play to give greater prominence to an aspect that could not be discussed at that then: the love between Laterraine and servant Gribaud.

This adds to the emotional impact but diminishes the important wider context that makes Laterraine’s awful choice so tragic.

Tight direction by Phoebe Barran holds the play together and keeps it gripping right to the end. As Gribaud’s mind wanders, Laterraine’s becomes more focussed but he also becomes doubtful about his ability to see things through successfully.

Gribaud’s rapid mental decline may seem funny, but Treacher treads the fine line between hilarity and pathos with great skill so that we’re never allowed to overlook the unbearable sadness beneath. There are times when it would have been easy to let the play slip into high camp or farce, but Barran never allows that to happen.

The man who has imprisoned them, The Duke of Lamorre (Martin Miller), along with his sidekick D’Aublaye (Sean Pogmore) have something of the pantomime villains about them. But as they veer between incompetence and spite we understand that their bumbling and sneering are only skin deep as viciousness and cruelty lie just below the surface

Full marks go to Jake Mann as Voulian, Lamorre’s servant who is also a freedom fighter and the catalyst for the escape from prison. He plays the role with great conviction and maturity although he graduated from RADA only last year. Matthew Fraser-Holland as the much-bullied servant Marteau turns his relatively small part into something bigger in a hilarious set-piece in the second act that moves the action along.

But I do have criticisms, it’s not very long so didn’t really need an interval. The tension was building and it would have been better to keep the audience in suspense right the way through. When you really don’t know what to expect, the chance of a ‘will-he-won’t-he’ discussion in the interval can spoil it. I would have preferred Gribaud’s descent into total madness to have been more gradual and the ending didn’t quite work for me. The problem with the ending may be because it reflects the dichotomy of the different emphases between the personal and political in the original and the adaptation by Wells.

But don’t let that put you off. This is a splendid production of a work by Hamilton who was a leading British novelist and playwright in the 1930s and 40s - he wrote Rope, Gaslight and Hangover Square which were made into successful films. And he lived in Chiswick for many years, which gives an added poignancy to this revival, and I hope the Tabard has a crack at revitalising his other works.

April 20, 2013