JOHN Webster's The Duchess Of Malfi is a classic 17th century Jacobean revenge tragedy.

Simultaneously, "at its heart, 'Malfi' is very much akin to a modern-day thriller," reckons Sam Taylor, a National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company actor and professional theatre, film and TV photographer now directing his first York Settlement Community Players production.

Webster's claustrophobic world of obsession, passion, blood and revenge spins around two siblings taking increasingly desperate and grotesque steps to bring about the downfall of their sister, the Duchess, who is determined to marry the man she loves.

"We've cut the text to concentrate purely on the central story: how the Duchess’s love for Antonio causes her brothers to tear down her life in revenge," says Sam. "It's fast-paced, very exciting, and we present the play in a little over two hours, with some characters amalgamated into 'super-characters'.

"I'd feel guilty if it ran to three hours: it has to be brilliant to sustain for that long and there's nothing more demoralising for actors than seeing people looking at their watches."

Time will fly by far too fast for that to happen in Settlement's production. "Hopefully the cast's energy drives us through so quickly, you won't believe the interval has arrived. They know they have to have that energy from the start," says Sam.

This account of 'Malfi' speeds up the passing years. "One of the most interesting changes that Sam's made is that originally it took place over over seven years, which sucks some of the expediency out of it," says Amanda Dales, who plays the Duchess. "In Sam's cuts, he's narrowed the timeline to a matter of months, a year."

Sam rejoins: "The only mention of time is when the Duchess comes on pregnant, having not been pregnant in her last scene. Otherwise, you can imagine that everything happens in quick succession.

"Now they have only one child together, rather than multiple. It boils down to wanting to cut out everything that didn't fit in with the main thriller plot. I just think that's the exciting part of setting up the revenge plot."

"It's revenge; it's blood; it's sex; it's the blockbuster of its time," says Amanda, who moved to London from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to study at LAMDA in 2010. While there, she met a Yorkshireman from Scarborough by the name of Sam Taylor, and now they are married. Yes, the very Sam Taylor who is directing 'Malfi', but we digress!

"I just hope people will find it different from past productions," says Sam. "It's not set in a modern era but we present it in a forward-thinking style."

Amanda agrees. "It's a classical text approached in a modern way, which makes it more accessible, I think," she says.

Playing Antonio opposite Amanda's Duchess will be David Phillipps. "What I've noticed from working with Sam is that he's putting as much energy into it as possible," he says. "Webster's language can be difficult but the way Sam has approached it has been exciting and engaging."

Analysing his role, David says: "What it boils down to is, what happens is all Antonio's fault! He shouldn't have been obsessed with horoscopes rather than seeing his new-born child."

Sam says: "Antonio spends his first five minutes on stage in so much exposition, setting up why it's such a rotten world..."

..."But don't get us wrong; there are splashes of light and humour, but around them it's pretty dark," says David.

"Our world today has the smell of oppression, which links it to Webster's Jacobean world where people lived in fear," suggests Sam.

"The two people in the play who really have the power are the Cardinal and Ferdinand, and they set up the deeply rotten world with rules that everyone has to play by, apart from them."

Amanda comments: "This leads back to the Duchess's poor leadership that lets that rotten world prevail."

That said, Amanda is delighted to be playing her! "The Duchess is one of the most sought-after roles for women, because not only is it unusual for a woman to lead a play, but she's also very modern. She's not of her time and she does what she wants," she says.

"She chooses to satisfy her physical and mental needs," says Sam. "She's hugely passionate and compassionate too," continues Amanda. "I wouldn't necessarily say she's a great ruler; I wouldn't put that tag on her, but she's intelligent, if deeply flawed, driven by her own wants and willing to overlook the flaws of her family."

"She's very front foot, especially with the intense family relations she has," says Sam.

"I think her quest for her happiness makes everyone else miserable, especially poor Antonio," notes Amanda. "Of all the characters, he's the most tragic: she's made her bed, he's lying in it, and he just gets sucked into her world."

York Settlement Community Players present The Duchess Of Malfi, York Theatre Royal Studio, March 6 to 16, 7.45pm and 2pm matinee on March 16. Tickets: £14, concessions £12, on 01904 623568 or at