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November 22, 2011

Cardenio (Read Not Dead) @ Shakespeare's Globe

We've been spoiled for productions and readings of versions of Cardenio/Double Falsehood over the last two years. We've had the RSC's version, two at the Union Theatre, a full production in New York and readings at Nottingham and Warwick. Older but also younger than all of these is Gary Taylor's "reconstruction" (as opposed to the RSC's "reimagining"). Taylor has been working on a version combining Theobald's text with reconstructed sections of Cervantes's Don Quixote for nigh-on two decades, and this weekend it came to the Globe in its latest iteration as part of the "Read Not Dead" series of rehearsed readings.

Read Not Dead is rough and ready, but I'm also impressed at how full and dynamic the stagings are. Under the direction of Wilson Milam, the large company gave a lively rendition that, while obviously unable to capture the finer effects of disguise and action, gave Taylor's text a fair hearing.

It was, overall, quite brilliant. By far the masterstroke was the incorporation of a subplot tracing the early fortunes of the old man Quesada, who runs made and renames himself Don Quixote. Taylor's text tracked his early exploits with Sancho, his encounters with the mad Cardenio and his final gulling by the Barber and Curate that causes him to return, beaten, to his home town. Tim McInnerny led the cast with a gloriously funny rendition of Quesada that imagined him as exaggerated mock hero, conjuring up his imagined surroundings with a confidence in his resonant voice that made sense of the willingness of those he encounters to indulge him. McInnerny was ably supported by Laura Dewey's tiny, wry Sancho, who struggled to drag an enormous broadsword around the stage and muttered mutinously, undercutting Quesada's bluster.

In some ways, the success of these scenes (particularly a passionate bowling scene that introduced the ludicrous knight) had a negative impact on the "main" story, that of Cardenio, which was calmer and less captivating as a result. However, there was much to be liked here. Taylor's text beefed up the role of Cardenio substantially, giving him a stronger connection to Fernando than exists in Double Falsehood and emphasising the importance of Fernando's betrayal of Cardenio. He also had several more mad scenes, including a rather cruel instance of beating Quesada and Sancho that sat slightly uneasily (despite it being faithful to Cervantes). However, these scenes kept a clear through line for the character that allowed us to invest more in his final reunion with Lucinda.

The other key character given a much increased role was Violenta. In the hands of Linsey Davies, she was imagined as a particularly feisty girl, very much sexually attracted to Fernando and keen to solemnise marriage with him. Here, even more so than in the Doran production, the attention was not on rape but on the betrayal of a promised oath, allowing the audience to invest in the idea of a romantic comedy rather than something more severe. I preferred the commitment of this production to the ambivalence of the RSC version, which raised but fudged the issue of rape in a way I found particularly disquieting. Violenta was also recruited by the Curate and Barber for the "curing" of Quesada, posing as a foreign princess and uniting the two plot strands. Davies was excellent throughout, creating a rounded and engaging character who arguably became more central than Cardenio.

Displaced in order to build up these two characters was Fernando, played by Jack Parker. Parker's interpretation and Taylor's script cast Fernando as a weaker and less manipulative character than in any of the other interpretations I've seen - a rather inept wooer and almost helpless in the face of Violenta's fiery demeanour. One felt almost sorry for this Fernando, for whom nothing ever seemed to go quite right. His scenes were also reduced in the second half, which from my point of view was this adaptation's biggest weakness, as by his appearance in the final scene we had almost forgotten quite what he had done - the encounter between Fernando and Lucinda when she is released from her coffin seems to me to be an essential part of the dramatic movement in those final scenes, giving a real edge to her fear as she is confronted once more with her persecutor and adding ambivalence to Ricardo's promises of help.

Coffins were key throughout. The play began with the Duke ruminating on his own, and they reappeared for the abduction from the nunnery and for Quesada's final entrance into the reunited party. This scene had a Shakespearean sadness to it, reminiscent of the gulling of Malvolio but without any self-awareness on the part of the gull. The final scene was, overall, a little weak, but I'm inclined to put this down primarily to the lack of resources - the stage directions called for a full masque of dancing nymphs, one of whom would turn out to be Cardenio, as well as the disguises and coffins. A little less of Theobald's sentiment may also have helped, as the reunion of Fernando and Violenta in particular felt too neat. However, it resolved the plots satisfactorily and brought the play to a neat conclusion in Quesada's appeal to the audience for applause.

There were other interesting decisions. I was particularly struck by the transposition of the Duke's pivotal "Fathers are as gods" speech to the Curate in the wedding scene - it worked well in the new setting, but I felt its lack in the final scene. Following Taylor's theories about subplots, the Fabian/Lopez dialogue was removed to Act 4, where it became the words of Sancho and Quesada on encountering the mad Cardenio. With the act recast as a love betrayal rather than a rape, there was no room for the "Henriquez" speech of Double Falsehood, my favourite bit of that play but here unfitting. The introduction of a more substantive female servant for Lucinda was a good choice that added much-needed banter to the early scenes, and Camillo and Bernardo benefitted from inclusion in the bowling scene, where their reactions to each other and to Quesada helped shape their characters for the rest of the play.

The overwhelming impression was of a coherent and entertaining play that deserves full production (and will receive it in Indianapolis in April). It's inevitable that any reconstruction of a lost play won't tick everything on everybody's wishlist, but Taylor's version offers a great piece of theatre that does justice to the extant sources and creates something with its own distinct character. It'll be supported, too, by essays in the forthcoming collection The Quest for Cardenio edited by Taylor and David Carnegie, due out in 2012. A fascinating experiment that made for a very enjoyable afternoon.


July 31, 2011

Cardenio [The Second Maiden's Tragedy] (Aporia Theatre) @ The Dell, Stratford–upon–Avon

Writing about web page http://aporiatheatre.com/Aporia%20Theatre%20Website_files/PreviousProductions.htm

I must get the complaints out of the way first. Publicity materials for Aporia Theatre's dates at the Dell in Stratford-upon-Avon announced that the company would be performing "Cardenio by Shakespeare - Fletcher - Middleton: The Alternative Text." I repeat the title used by the company; but, as I knew already from information about the London run, this wasn't Cardenio at all. The play in question is better known as The Second Maiden's Tragedy or The Lady's Tragedy. In 1994, the amateur palaeographer Charles Hamilton edited and published the play as Cardenio. The source of the main plot is, indeed, Cervantes's Don Quixote, but a different tale that interweaves with the Cardenio story. An early reader did indeed suggest Shakespeare as one of several possible writers for the anonymous play, but other than that the Shakespeare attribution has rarely been taken seriously. Hamilton argued, with passion but little rigour, that the manuscript was in Shakespeare's handwriting, and that the play was the lost Shakespeare/Fletcher collaboration. His attribution has not been accepted by the academic community, which almost unanimously accepts the attribution of the play to Thomas Middleton (though it's fair to mention that Eric Rasmussen did make a case for Shakespeare's involvement a while ago, an argument that likewise received little attention).

The presentation of this production as an "alternative text" for Cardenio is misleading, suggesting that the relationship between this play and the current production at Stratford is akin to that between the different versions of Hamlet. Even though the attribution to Shakespeare has been roundly refuted, the company continued to present the play as potentially Shakespeare's in order to attract publicity. It's a shame, partly because the play is one of Middleton's best and deserves to be advertised under its better-known name, and partly because it detracted from an inventive, well-acted and entertaining production in its own right.

The actors struggled a bit in the Dell, attempting to project to a widely-dispersed open-air audience and competing against the afternoon bell-ringing practice at nearby Holy Trinity Church. For a production which largely presented its roles in rhetorical and stylised modes this wasn't too much of a problem, but it did mean that some of the production's subtleties got lost. Calum Witney's Anselmo in particular (NB several of the usual character names were changed to match the Spanish setting suggested by 'Cardenio') had some lovely facial expressions, whether in whispered conversation with Andrew Bate's Lotario (this production's Votarius) or his Wife (here renamed Camila, played by Freya Finnerty), that spoke to the complexity of the moral situation he had created for himself.

The production was styled after Japanese kabuki theatre, with characters in white make-up and carrying curved swords. This lent itself to formal presentation rather than detailed characterisation, particularly in the main plot. Thomas Thoroe's Cardenio (Govianus) was a cold avenger, perpetually angry and representative of his fall. The production began with him kneeling to pray, before Ryan Burkwood's Tyrant (here Fernando) entered and had him arrested by his men. The dynamic between the two was strong throughout, Cardenio's aloof and righteous anger balanced by Fernando's wonderfully lascivious evil. Fernando smiled constantly, lounged on cushions, waved his hands dismissively while ordering extreme acts and reacted with spoiled frustration when denied his desires. As the production went on, he became increasingly unhinged, first lying astride Luscinda's (The Lady's) corpse and later going completely Norman Bates as he chatted with the seated body in his chamber. This scene particularly drew out the contrast, as Cardenio (disguised with a shawl over his head) stood calmly while Fernando ran about the stage in desperate denial of his love's death.

While I would have preferred to see more human emotion in Cardenio himself, the cast drew out the pathos of the house arrest well. Cardenio and Paloma Oakenfold's Luscinda had little personal time together, but concentrated on the desperation of their position. Helvetius's attempts to persuade his daughter to betray herself ended with him shaking her hard before Cardenio entered and shot a pistol into the air. Michael J Hayes as Helvetius played his repentance convincingly, and his defiance of Fernando in the subsequent scene marked the beginnings of the Tyrant's madness in his furious response. Later, while awaiting their final capture, Cardenio and Luscinda's argument over her murder was tightly fought, continually building to moments where Cardenio readied his sword. His collapse on the point of ending her life was particularly strong (and oddly reminiscent of Cardenio as played in the current RSC production in his aversion of a major act). She drew his sword for her death but, in one of the production's major interventions, the act itself was represented by Fernando entering and twisting her head, making clear for an audience his agency in forcing her to this point.

The seminal crypt scene was extremely well done. Actors stood as statues, lining the way to a makeshift plinth in the middle of the audience where Luscinda lay. Fernando's growing madness manifested as he ordered his reluctant men to remove the lid of the tomb before he jumped in on top of the body, causing the statues to turn their heads in horror. Cardenio entered the same space shortly afterwards. In a stunning image, two actors upstage held up a sheet vertically. From behind the sheet, Luscinda pushed her face and body against it for her appearance as the ghost, shouting her lines clearly while bits of her body manifested and disappeared. Equally powerful was her later appearance, where the corpse in Fernando's room simply stood up to address her lover before sinking down again. The dynamics of this scene were deeply complex. Fernando drew groans of disgust from the audience as he inserted his tongue down the corpse's throat, before dying pathetically on the steps while Cardenio stood over him in triumph.

The subplot was equally well performed, with more attention to the humanity of the characters. While Camila was perhaps a bit too melodramatic for the space, Emma Richardson's Cockney Leonella was effectively irreverent, nodding and winking at the audience. The two were especially good during their final staged scene for the benefit of the unseen Anselmo, performing in high kabuki style and interrupting each other in their normal voices when things began to go wrong.

Bate's Lotario was the production's secret weapon, a personable and open anti-hero who began with an apparent moral consistency that was gradually overcome by Camila's acceptance of his unwilling advances. The actor gave a strong account of the character - furious with Will Bowden's furtive, black-clad Bellarius, simultaneously heedful of and angry at his master, sexually undone by Camila but equally ready to take responsibility for his actions and commit further crimes to escape them. Particularly in his first post-coital scene, topless and confused on the main stage while Camila slept on the plinth, he fully embodied the complexity of one of Middleton's richest characters. Anselmo was also pleasingly complex. His posh voice spoke of the thoughtless privilege that prompted him to initiate his own disastrous domestic tragedy, but as events progressed and he became the voice of relative innocence, confused and passive. His cries of anguish as he revived from death long enough to hear confirmation of his wife's infidelity were one of the production's most affecting moments.

A lot of the production's good work was undone, however, in an appalling final decision. The ghosts of all the deceased entered along with Helvetius to hail the new King, and Cardenio thanked them. He then turned to the body of his lover, took her in his arms and kissed her unthinkingly. He turned away, then realised what he had done, choked and died onstage, the production closing on the image of him kneeling. This drew laughs from some of the audience, and showed no respect to character or play, choosing to end on a note of cheap irony rather then the sombre restoration of order. The clear intent was to exaggerate the number of deaths in the play's final image, but the effect was crass. It's a shame - the production deserves a long life, and the opportunity to see the play was extremely welcome. With this tacked-on ending removed, and the more recognisable name restored, it'd be even better. As it is, this was largely a well-considered and entertaining production, and exactly the kind of thing the Dell should be supporting.


May 19, 2011

Cardenio (RSC) @ The Swan – Revisited

Follow-up to Cardenio (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre, Stratford–upon–Avon from The Bardathon

I’m just back from my second viewing of the RSC’s Cardenio, and it’s still great. This time, familiar with the new material and the reshaping of Double Falsehood, I had more leisure to enjoy the sparky relationship established between Oliver Rix's Cardenio and Lucy Briggs-Owen's Luscinda in the opening scenes; the formality of Simeon Moore's Pedro as he persuades Cardenio to inform on Fernando; the good-natured decision of the shepherds to escort Cardenio into town to be cured; and the role of Matti Houghton's Duenna in chaperoning Luscinda during all her meetings with Cardenio. The music, too, is utterly wonderful, and I didn’t do it justice in my last review. The Spanish-inflected band, with an amazing singer and fantastic flamenco guitar work, brought the house down during the final dance, and made all the difference in terms of atmosphere.

I also think Greg Doran has done stirling work in adding a great amount of new material that fits almost seamlessly with Theobald's text. Yes, there are a few inconsistencies (I particularly dislike Cardenio's resigned soliloquy after the wedding, which doesn't fit well with the character's subsequent madness), but by and large I would defy anyone without a prior knowledge of Double Falsehood to distinguish the new material. I'm writing at the moment about the difficulty of "splicing" together material in order to create an effective theatrical adaptation, and Doran's Cardenio is a masterclass in how to succeed.

I’m still deeply troubled, though, by the play’s treatment of Fernando’s seduction of Dorotea. I discussed this in my last review; but, in light of today’s outcry against Ken Clarke’s discussion of rape, and his implicit distinction between “serious” rape and (presumably) less serious forms of rape, I remain frustrated by the production’s fudging of this key issue. It's this that I'd like to focus on here.

In Double Falsehood, Henriquez (Fernando) woos Violante (Dorotea) at her window. She rebuffs him and leaves, and he piquantly asks why he is treated with contempt. In the next scene, he appears again in a distracted state. He reveals in soliloquy that he has forced himself on Violante. In a key speech, he promises to be hard on himself and asks if it was rape; and while he convinces himself that he didn’t, it is clear to the audience that rape is what it was. The text reads “True, she did not consent, as true she did resist, but in silence all.” We don’t need to know the exact details of how, when and where; the point is that he has raped her and that she did not consent, even in his own self-justification. Violante’s pursuit of Henriquez for the remainder of the play is an attempt to make the best of the situation by making good on his promise to marry her (a promise which he gave during the rape, with the implication that it offered him some comfort). While this is obviously an early modern solution to a social problem, it poses interesting possibilities for a modern production – as indeed it did for MokitaGrit – in exploring the problematic relationship between love and abuse.

In Doran’s production, the heaviest section of new writing comes in between these two scenes. First, we see Alex Hassell's Fernando at court with Cardenio, showing that he did not instantly act on his impulse to pursue her into her room. The heat is taken off his lust. Then, Doran provides a lengthy seduction scene. Early in this scene, Fernando attempts to force himself on Pippa Nixon's Dorotea. She resists, and he desists.

However, she then throws him a lifeline, by telling him that she would be happy to yield her virginity to the man who promised to marry her. He leaps on this, offering her marriage and promising to be hers forever. She consents – slowly, but decisively – to this, and the scene closes on the two of them sharing a mutual kiss, before fireworks explode and a fiesta with phallic manikins takes over the stage. The only more threatening note is as Fernando points out that, if they don’t do the act, he will shame her by making clear his departure from her flat, pressuring her into consenting.

The pressure applied on Dorotea in this scene is enough to still demonstrate Fernando’s basic caddishness, and I would argue it’s still enough to qualify as rape. However, the emphasis on her consent is too strong. In the self-justification scene that follows, there is an important textual change, as Fernando says “True, she DID consent; as true, she did resist.” While this could still be explained away as his own self-delusion, this is the soliloquy which dictates how an audience is expected to respond to the act, and it corroborates what we have already seen – that Dorotea willingly had sex with Fernando, albeit under conditions that Fernando is showing us he has no intention of keeping. What is crucial here is that Fernando is convincing in his assertion that it was not rape, strongly emphasised by the actor in a voice designed to break apart from the character’s comic weakness and determine a truth. For this production, the act is not rape. Fernando’s crime is reduced to that of faithlessness, even treachery, but he is spared the tarnish of a rapist.

The aim is to make Cardenio a family-friendly production. Rape is difficult to discuss with nuance on the stage, and even more difficult to govern audience response to without depicting shocking scenes of violence. By reducing the problem to one of, essentially, fidelity – as stressed in Dorotea’s (new) closing speech where she stresses that, according to their contract, they are already married – Doran allows for a comic resolution, as Dorotea appeals to Fernando’s heart and he grows penitent, the two embracing in love.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. However, what is shown and spoken of in this production – even with the textual changes – is too serious for so light a treatment. His abuse of trust in order to satiate his own lust regardless of her own wishes is shocking, and needs to be interrogated on the modern stage, not glossed over and relegated to what, given today’s news stories, ends up coming across as a “less serious” form of rape.

Now, I'm aware that, because of my research, I'm unusually attuned to the textual changes and the interpretive decisions that have gone into this production as compared with Double Falsehood, and I wouldn't expect others to necessarily pick up on the things I'm talking about. I'm not voicing this as an all-encompassing condemnation of the production, nor suggesting that it somehow (intentionally or not) legitimises a form of rape. But in tonight's performance, Dorotea’s agency in the sexual act was visible enough to allow a substantial portion of the audience to laugh in relief as the rapist absolved himself of his own crime. And however much I want to apologise for the production, that sickened me.


April 24, 2011

Cardenio (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre, Stratford–upon–Avon

Writing about web page http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/cardenio/

"Shakespeare's 'Lost Play' Re-Imagined" runs the tag-line to this, the first full-scale new production in the Swan Theatre since its re-opening. The absence of John Fletcher (let alone Lewis Theobald) from this tag is perhaps inevitable given the RSC's priorities, although both are fully credited within the wider publicity material. This is the RSC's first (only?) big crack at Cardenio, and the company has been keen to emphasise the scholarly rationale behind the staging, with blogs and articles detailing the production's sources in Cervantes, Shelton and Theobald. While I've seen and reviewed several productions of Double Falsehood over the last few months, however, it should be noted that this was emphatically NOT a production of Theobald's play. While Double Falsehood provided the majority of the text, this was an attempt at a conjectural reconstruction of Cardenio, versifying and interpolating material from Don Quixote along with new text and fleshing out the play. This review will inevitably be comparing Cardenio with Double Falsehood, but the two turned out to be interestingly different plays.

Cardenio

The production began with a coffin, positioned before iron gates that divided the stage in two and stood primarily for the gates of Don Bernardo's house, physically stressing the family divide that relates the play to Romeo and Juliet. Candles burned and Catholic choristers led a group of courtiers in chants behind the gate. Into this sacred environment stepped Alex Hassell as Fernando (the Henriquez character; most were renamed after the Don Quixote source characters), who slowly got into the coffin and lay down, arms crossed. As the funereal party moved to unlock the gates, Fernando quickly left up and exited. Already, he was established as the transgressive figure to watch, with a hint of his tendencies towards self-destruction. As the rest of the cast entered, it became clear that the coffin was being prepared well in advance of the Duke's death, much to the dismay of elder son Pedro (Simeon Moore, the Roderigo character).

The changes to Double Falsehood made by director Greg Doran and Spanish dramaturg Antonio Alamo were wide-reaching, particularly in the play's first half. New scenes including an opening spar between the bickering Cardenio (Julio) and Luscinda (Leonora); scenes between Pedro, Cardenio and Fernando at court which were particularly important in establishing the friendship of the latter two men; a scene of further wooing between Fernando and Dorotea (Violante) framed by a Spanish fiesta and, in the second half, a scene set in the nunnery featuring Luscinda's abduction. There was extensive rewriting throughout the rest of the play, including major changes to both the wedding and the conclusion, which I'll discuss in their turn. By the same token, Fabian and Lopez were cut (along with any vestiges of a sub- or parallel plot) and, more bizarrely, the scene in which Dorotea employs a servant to help disguise her as a boy was also omitted.

The relationship between Oliver Rix and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Cardenio and Luscinda was established effectively. With the imposing, auditorium-high gates often between them, the nervous Cardenio was often reduced to staring through the bars as Luscinda glided past, invariably accompanied by a Duenna and Maid. Out of his social sphere, and intimidated by Nicholas Day's blustering Don Bernardo, Cardenio became a Romeo-esque lover, comically floundering about for lines of poetry and making grand promises, while quailing beneath Luscinda's steely gaze. Initially, I deeply disliked Briggs-Owen's very modern Luscinda, who stood with hands on hips, scornful derision and a general "talk to the hand" confidence that ill suited the formal period setting. While these mannerisms and expressions felt crass, it did help establish the difference in their demeanours, and as the play went on Briggs-Owen settled into a far calmer and more appropriately emotional vein. She was a dynamic figure who both challenged Cardenio and gave him confidence in her proactive approach; and she clashed dramatically with her obstinate father while Cardenio looked meekly on. This conflict became the production's early focal point, as the wilful Luscinda refused to yield to parental control yet struggled to find ways out.

This culminated in the wedding scene, which aimed to turn the Cardenio/Luscinda relationship into the focal point. Cardenio arrived, disguised in the Citizen's cloak, and Luscinda showed him her dagger and pushed him protesting into a corner, ordering him to hide. This suited the relationship already established, with Cardenio allowing Luscinda to take the lead. As the wedding party entered and Luscinda was led to her new husband, however, she grabbed for the dagger but was unable to find it. The priest began the vows and a distraught Luscinda, not knowing what to do with her plans thwarted, ended up stuttering a "Yea", then fainted as Fernando placed a ring on her finger. She was carried out, and the wedding broke up. Left alone, Cardenio soliloquised about his own passivity and Luscinda's cruelty, before leaving quietly to run mad in the forest. I found this unconvincing and dramatically inert; in Double Falsehood, events come to a head in a moment of extreme violence during which Julio is ejected from the church, and madness becomes a passion borne out of rejection and the betrayal of a friend. This far more considered "madness" didn't chime with his subsequent ravings, which dwelled primarily on the Fernando treachery; the introduction of a complication between the two lovers was unnecessary and was not addressed in their reunion in the final scene.

The least adapted roles were those of the two fathers, who retained their comic function (particularly Christopher Godwin's Camillo) but with a great deal of pathos, particularly as they bewailed their losses to Pedro. The scene of Bernardo's flouting of Camillo was a particular joy, with Day relishing every word in a slow, sarcastic delivery that brought on an apopleptic fit in Godwin. The two eventually resorted to pushing each other pompously, before Bernardo distracted Camillo by pointing behind him, then running to the gates which he locked in Camillo's face. Pedro later discovered Camillo still standing before the gates, rattling his stick against them in fury. The compact between the three, little adapted from Theobald's text, was a high point of dignity that set up the "quest" element of the second half neatly.

A new scene between Cardenio and Fernando saw the two of them, following a riding session, telling each other about their respective loves. Hassell's wonderful Fernando channelled Lord Flashheart (of Blackadder), making of the Duke's son an unpredictable, tempestuous, loud cad. Jumping onto a vaulting horse, he boasted of Dorotea and showed unashamed interest in Cardenio's description of Luscinda. This spoiled lord showed his colours when Cardenio advised him against pursuing Dorotea, jumping down from the horse and advancing on his friend in a spirit of anger, before laughing and embracing him. Everyone, Pedro included, was cautious around Fernando, wary of his temper and flammable humour.

Cardenio publicity art

Particularly interesting was how funny Fernando was. His charismatic excesses brought the audience onside, and excused to some extent his brash behaviour. This became hugely complicated as the wooing of Dorotea commenced. At first it was purely comic, including overwrought instructions to confused musicians and a pleading tone to Dorotea (appearing at a balcony) that rendered him somewhat pathetic. The humour of the character, however, did mean that the audience continued laughing even as he asserted his right to her body and announced he would bribe her maid, keeping it firmly within a comic vein. The new seduction scene (which followed his conversation with Cardenio at court, and was thus separated in time) was framed by a fiesta featuring masked revellers carrying large sexual puppets that were tossed together on a blanket and left in a mess of limbs on the ground, making explicit the tone of Fernando's mission. Yet the scene itself made the nature of their interaction extremely ambiguous. He sneaked into her room and, initially, attempted to force himself on her, despite her anger and pleading. As they talked in the heat of fear and passion, promises were exchanged on both sides, and she handed him marriage as a solution, which he accepted. The scene closed as he began to kiss her and she (difficult to see) appeared to stop resisting. The overall impression was one of consensual sex under false pretences, rather than enforced rape. This was emphasised in a small but significant textual change as Fernando left. Where in Double Falsehood he says "True, she did not consent; as true she did resist, but still in silence all," here he said "True, she did consent..." While the intent was clearly to attempt to make Dorotea's pursuit of Fernando palatable to a modern audience, it had the effect of reducing the extent of Fernando's crime; as did the delay of his pursuit of Luscinda until after another interpolated scene where Cardenio showed him Luscinda's house and the maid herself, at only which point did Fernando decide to woo her for himself.

While I happen to think the stronger rape narrative implied by Double Falsehood offers a more challenging and important set of issues, this extremely significant change did bring the play more into line with the Cardenio story and Jacobean sensibilities. Further, it allowed Fernando to gradually increase in maliciousness rather than peak in his first appearances. His overpowering presence and sycophantic deferrence to Bernardo were loathed by Luscinda, and the nunnery scene was especially effective. An oddly comic nun offered some pedantic banter with Luscinda, which offset the arrival of the coffin. Luscinda (the report of whose flight was passed over quickly at the end of the first half) then sat before the coffin, assuming it was Cardenio but afraid to look. Suddenly, the coffin lid flew off (to screams from the audience) and Fernando emerged, clasping his hand over her mouth and forcing her into the coffin, inside which she continued to shout while the nuns were trapped behind locked gates and Pedro looked on aghast. This most significant instance of Fernando's violence built nicely towards the play's concluding action.

Simeon Moore's Pedro offered a powerful contrast to his brother throughout. While his portentous tone sometimes grated, he offered a tremulous and conscientous noble, bewildered by the acts of treachery he saw about him and with a fury that caused him to shake as he addressed Fernando in the final scene. Moore found tremendous personality and complexity in this man, who initially attempted to ignore Violante in her page outfit and struggled with his own conscience regarding Luscinda.

The second half began with autumn leaves spread about the stage, the gates removed and a reflective backdrop giving the impression of wide open spaces. The shepherds, dressed in winter clothes and sitting in a work attitude, gossipped and joked together without becoming openly comic. The gentle pastoral atmosphere came from a director who understands Fletcher, and provided an elegiac tone for Cardenio's mad scenes. Dishevelled and sore, his distractedness oscillated between moments of direct action (such as his recognition of "Fernando" in the face of the Second Shepherd") and wandering speeches which drew him aimlessly among the locals, who watched him with caution bred from familiarity. The comic action of these scenes included an attempt to leap at a "Fernando" in the audience, which saw Cardenio caught in mid-air by two of the shepherds; and the picking up of the Second Shepherd by the nose, a battle which resulted in all of the cast being knocked to the stage. Timothy Speyer's Master was a short and lecherous villain, who couldn't keep his hands off his boy and came very close to raping Dorotea before Roderick's interruption.

The two shepherds who stayed with Cardenio were fleshed out nicely with conversation and ideas of taking him to the nearest town to be cured. They faded into the background as he listened to the song of Pippa Nixon's Dorotea. Nixon made for a strait-laced Dorotea, pleading and self-sufficient but continually scared by the advances of men. Following her song and descent to the stage, she took out a dagger and prepared to kill herself, but was prevented by Cardenio. The character's earnestness was well-played by Nixon, and her earlier interactions with Fernando displayed her quick thinking and fast talking.

The final scene pulled together the stories to mixed effect. Set in what appeared to be a Spanish bar, with servants setting up tables and women beating blankets, it made for an odd environment for the Duke and fathers to set up court in. For the most part, the action played out as in Double Falsehood, with Pedro reintroducing Luscinda to her father (realised in a simple but touching embrace) and Fernando to his father. Fernando humbled himself appropriately and apologised for his faults, while the Duke castigated him and instructed Luscinda on obedience. Dorotea was brought in as Florio and told her story, to the belief of all except the outraged Fernando, then left to effect her change. At this point began the extensive rewriting.

Cardenio was brought in, still dishevelled, and stood before the group. Fernando stepped forward, and began his denial before recognising him. He drew slowly closer and knelt before his wronged friend... and then lashed out, beating and attempting to kill him. The two fought, and Cardenio eventually threw Fernando against some chairs at the back of the room. Cardenio was then reunited with his father and THEN Luscinda, reversing the order. As the lovers kissed, Fernando reappeared, felled Cardenio and grabbed Luscinda. At this point Dorotea re-entered and dissuaded Fernando from further disgrace with a long speech. This ending was undeniably more interesting than the straightforward and carefully stage-managed reunions of Double Falsehood, but jarred; following Fernando's apology to his father, the attempt to kill Cardenio in the presence of the Duke made no sense (unless Fernando was far madder than he was played) and felt like an unnecessary attempt to spice up the climax and give Dorotea more to do. What this effectively did was change the cause of Fernando's repentance from a series of small humiliations (the return of Luscinda, his humbling before the joke, the revelation of Dorotea, the reunion with Cardenio) to a single speech by Dorotea, which was unconvincing and overly simplistic. However, it introduced a welcome note of ambiguity into the reunions, as the joy of the fathers was marred by the quiet and troubled faces of Luscinda and Cardenio, both abused by Fernando, and the tentative attempts of Fernando himself to apologise to Dorotea.

A final Spanish dance closed the production on a strong and musical note (and mention should be made of Paul Englishby's gorgeous Spanish-inflected live score, whose effect on the overall production cannot be adequately articulated nor understated by me). My discussion of the textual adaptation should not detract from the fact that this was a joyous, well-performed and confident production. While some of the changes were welcome and some were unnecessary, very few actually diminished the play, and as a putative reconstruction of Cardenio it was intelligent, accessible and designed to appeal to the widest possible crowd, without reducing the action to mere Shakespearean parallels. What is most important is that the combination of Theobald's play and Cervantes's story worked extremely well on the Swan stage and made the strongest case yet for the value of Double Falsehood to the modern repertory, in being the primary source for a thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.


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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.


The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.


Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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