Gemma Arterton is an actress plagued by her own beauty. Hot chocolate eyes, cool cream skin, a body that is the word "curve" made flesh—no wonder Hollywood can't take its lenses off her talent. Which it tends to locate somewhere just below her neckline. "Prince of Persia", "Clash of the Titans", "Quantum of Solace"—if only their directors had stopped panting long enough, they might have seen what a fine performer Arterton is, how slyly intelligent.
Her Tess of the d'Urbervilles for the BBC in 2008, a nanosecond after she'd emerged from RADA, was a real, solid, country girl, brimful with tears and rage at her lover's rejection. Playing a young vampire mother in "Byzantium" for Neil Jordan last year, she was innocent, sluttish, vituperative, funny, deep-souled, adoring—and capable, in protecting her child, of any violence. Even an auteur like Jordan couldn't resist lingering on her décolletage, but in response she simply raised an eyebrow, and her game.
Now Arterton returns to the Globe in London—where she made her professional stage debut as Rosaline—to launch its new, indoor Jacobean theatre, named after its founder, Sam Wanamaker. The role is the Duchess of Malfi, another woman who drives every man around her into a frenzy of lust or fury. The Wanamaker's small, wood-panelled auditorium, lit almost entirely by candles, is faintly claustrophobic—just right for Webster's oddly inward-looking play, in which ghosts and people inhabit the shadows equally, and everyone does exactly the thing you were hoping they wouldn't. Without the prurient gaze of the camera getting in the way, Arterton should shine. ~ Isabel Lloyd
Duchess of Malfi Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, Jan 9th to Feb 16th
THEATRE AT A GLANCE
King Lear (Olivier, London, Jan 14th to Mar 25th). Sam Mendes pulls his usual trick of putting together a cast you simply can't ignore: Simon Russell Beale as (at last!) Lear, plus, as Regan, the nuclear bundle of intensity that is Anna Maxwell Martin.
The Pass (Royal Court, London, Jan 13th to Mar 1st). Penalty spot to spotlight: Russell Tovey (a jug-eared ringer for Wayne Rooney) plays a footballer holed up in a hotel room and facing the depredations of fame, in this new play from rising star John Donnelly.
Red Velvet (Tricycle, London, Jan 23rd to Mar 8th; St Ann's Warehouse, New York, Mar 25th to Apr 20th). Adrian Lester warms up for Broadway, reprising his multi-faceted, award-winning perfomance as Ira Aldridge, a black actor who boggled Victorian London by daring to play Othello.
Urinetown (St James's, London, Feb 22 to May 3rd). Jamie Lloyd directs the British premiere of this Tony-winning satirical musical, set in a dystopian future where even your pee isn't your own. ~ IL