A major challenge in the role of Bosola is addressing his archetypal role of the Jacobean malcontent – a man filled with rage at the superficial world around him, cynical about the motivations of others while at the same time a convicted criminal and ready gun-for hire.
Applying a purely Stanislavskian interpretation to the character’s contradictory nature was something that I was very wary about: part of what makes Webster’s original text so interesting is his juxtaposition of contradictory values within the same character, and I didn’t want to simply ignore this element in the writing and be needlessly reductive.
But the question of where Bosola’s ‘malcontent’ nature might spring from was a question that invites an imaginative response, and it was one that I thought could dovetail with Inky Cloak’s interpretation of The Duchess of Malfi as a (trans) gender fable.
Throughout I was always aware of the dramatic function of the character and how exceptionally open to interpretation the role was: a topic covered in considerable depth by John F Buckingham’s thesis The Dangerous Edge Of Things: John Webster’s Bosola in Context and Performance, a 300-plus page document reviewing various takes on the character which provided a useful context.
In researching the period we were setting the play, I soon discovered a fascinating example of a real life character who was a notorious figure in the criminal underworld, who also (allegedly) battled with his own sexual identity – Ronnie Kray.
A lot of Bosola’s anger comes from having just been released from prison after seven years, but as a performer searching for something stimulating to play, I wanted to delve a little deeper into potential choices. The idea of making Bosola a suppressed homosexual, who rages against effeminate ‘painting,’ seemed to inform his later use of Julia(n) in Act 5 and most importantly, with his changing relationship with the Duchess – specifically the latter’s determination to affirm their sexual identity and autonomy. This proved a ‘way in’ to the character which knitted together the play as written with our own particular take on the world of the play.
Christopher Tester (Bosola)