Interview with… the cast of The Duchess of Malfi

Next week, Masque Theatre present John Webster’s classic tragedy “The Duchess of Malfi” in the stunning Holy Sepulchre on Sheep Street. We’ve been chatting with the cast to find out more…

In Part 1 of this 3 part interview, we’re talking to Alex Rex (Bosola), Martin Williams (The Cardinal), and Matthew Fell (Ferdinand).

The Duchess of Malfi Rehearsal
Alex Rex, Matthew Fell and Martin Williams in rehearsal

How have rehearsals for The Duchess of Malfi been going so far?

Alex: They have been going well, each week has been about exploring and discovering through trial and error. We are now in the final stage of solidifying the text in our brains but still playing with the performance.

Martin: Great fun. It is a pretty experienced cast so everyone knows that the hard work has to be done but there is plenty of fun to be had too. When you are rehearsing a play for six weeks it is important to be able to chill out now and again during rehearsals. John Myhill (the Director) knows his theatre and diplomatically points us all in the right direction for the characterisations but at the same time he knows we are doing this for pleasure and he has allowed us to bring our own ideas to the role too. It is great fun during the course of rehearsals, not only to experiment and develop one’s own character but also to watch how all the other characters are developing too.

Matthew: Really good, John’s a director who’s very clear in what he wants but also encourages collaboration with, and input from, his actors.  This is also the first Masque play I’ve been involved in for a while so it’s great working with lots of new members as well as with more established ones and friends again.

Tell us a little bit about your characters

April Pardoe, Martin Williams, James Lickman and Nicola Osborne

Alex: Bosola is a guy who is no stranger to trouble and after being released from the galleys looks to the Cardinal for work. He becomes involved in the brothers’ plot against the Duchess as he hopes he will gain money and position, not realising that the Duke and Cardinal are not to be trusted.

Martin: I am playing the Cardinal, the elder brother of the Duchess of Malfi and Ferdinand. Out of the evil characters in the play, I think he is possibly the worst! Cold and calculating he wraps everyone round his evil little finger and has very little excuse for his actions other than the vainglorious ambition he has for the bloodline of his family. Oh, possibly he never quite got over not being made Pope! The lengths to which he is prepared to go to maintain the lineage and good name of the family are somewhat extreme by any means. The audience will despise the Cardinal and will hopefully be praying themselves that he will get his just deserts at the end! But is this play going to turn out with a happy ending? How many are going to walk away from this and live happily ever after? Not many if the Cardinal has anything to do with it…

Matthew: I play Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria and twin brother to the eponymous Duchess. It’s fair to say he has a few issues….

What inspired you to audition for the role?

Matthew: The opportunity to be involved with this classic play was one thing and for me, Ferdinand is the most complex character in the story and therefore the most challenging to perform; that’s always something that appeals to me as an actor. As mentioned above he has his issues; is a bit of a psychopath as a consequence, and as such not entirely in control of his emotions or actions. His descent into madness follows an interesting trajectory which is a great challenge for the actor to convey.

Alex: I didn’t audition for a specific role, I went along as I wanted to be involved and was happy to play anything really, as I thought it would be a great production. There are loads of wonderful characters in the play, I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be able to play Bosola.

Martin: I saw the RSC do this play last year and it was brilliant. I had never seen a John Webster play on stage prior to that and so he had always been an enigma to me. One of the big names of English writing and I had never watched a play of his. Now I have not only watched this one but I am in it too!


Do you have a favourite line?

Bosola (Alex Rex) and Ferdinand (Matthew Fell)

Martin: I have two favourite lines: “O, my conscience! I would pray now; but the devil takes away my heart.” The Cardinal expresses how easy it is for him to have few scruples about a course of action when he believes it is to further his own and his family’s interest. And “Doth she make religion her riding-hood to keep her from the sun and tempest” – it is a cynical take on religion –  the Cardinal questions the sincerity of those professing to be religious. Pretty rich coming from the Cardinal but he has no monopoly over hypocrisy!

Matthew: Ferdinand has some real zingers, most of them involving the infliction of cruelty on some unfortunate soul or souls. But if I had to name one probably: If you do love him, cut out thine own tongue lest it betray him”  – you’ll have to come along to find out to whom this addressed…

Alex: I have a great line when I describe someone as looking like an abortive hedgehog!

Why do you think people should come to see the show?

Bosola (Alex Rex) and The Duchess (Nicola Osborne)

Alex: We are really lucky in the UK to have so many amazing playwrights both past and present, and this is one of those plays that everyone must see at least once in their lives. I think we are going to do a pretty good job of it, fingers crossed!

Martin: Because it is live theatre. And the play depicts mankind at his worst!

Matthew: It will look visually stunning in amazing period costumes in the atmospheric Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there are great performances across the board and the opportunity to see this doesn’t come along very often. Don’t miss out. Plus basically it’s ‘The Borgias’ meets ‘Game Of Thrones’… and if, like me, you can’t wait for the final season of Game Of Thrones’ to begin then The Duchess Of Malfi’ will whet the appetite nicely! 

Click here to read Part II of our interview, this time with Megan Lucas and Becki Cockcroft >>>

The Duchess of Malfi takes place in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Sheep Street NN1 3NL from Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 April 2019 – performances start at 7.30pm. Tickets are £9 and are available online (subject to a small booking fee) at by calling 07783 531542 or in person at St Giles Music, 16 St Giles Terrace, NN1 2BN

Photos by Becki Cockcroft