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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.


February 01, 2011

Double Falsehod (MokitaGrit) @ The Union Theatre, Southwark

Writing about web page http://www.doublefalsehood.org/

Comparisons may be odious, but at the Union Theatre's new production of Double Falsehood, they are positively unavoidable. In August, KDC performed what it called the "21st century premiere" of Theobald's disputed play in the space. Five months later, the same theatre played host to another Double Falsehood by MokitaGrit Productions, in "the first professional production since 1792", with no reference to the previous event. Implied, then, was a process of overwriting of space, text, memory, replacing KDC's amateur effort with MokitaGrit's "professional" approach. Interestingly, the amateur/professional divide did not merely translate into a difference in the scale of investment, but into the type of investment made. Where KDC invested its time and finances in the visual (a glossy programme, opulent Baroque costumes), MokitaGrit concentrated on text, interpretation and performance in a production that, from an artistic and academic standpoint, succeeded in "overwriting" its predecessor.

The chief success of director Phil Willmott's approach was its attention to the problems of class. From the second scene, where Camillo entered a farmyard in tweed suit and read the Duke's letter to the sound of chickens clucking, the play was driven by social transgression - whether in the upwardly mobile aspirations of Camillo and Donna Benita (the character's gender changed to great effect) or the lecherous and brazen advances of the privileged Henrique (the 'z' lost here) onto Violante, who became Leonora's servant. This simple innovation was extraordinarily effective; her appearance in maid's costume standing silently behind Leonora and Benita created an instant backstory for all three that determined their subsequent actions. Violante - the excellent Jessie Lilley - was a feisty Scouser, torn between the constraints of her social status and her wilful resistance to Henrique's advances. Aside from the obvious disdain with which her attacker treated her, neither of her employers even glanced at her during their shared time onstage, recasting Violante as a neglected Cinderella, or even Helena (All's Well), figure, who the audience invested fully in from the start. Su Douglas's Benita, on the other hand, was besotted by the idea of raising her own social status. Immaculately addressed, and particuarly scornful of the slightly shabbier but good-hearted Camillo, she cooed over Henrique; he used his public-school charm and parental deference to manipulate the mother rather than directly approach the daughter, while Leonora seethed. Emily Plumtree was perfectly balanced between the two: her performance of petulance at Julio's apparent disinterest was relieved at his present of a necklace; yet the sincerity of her affection manifested itself as she became increasingly aware of her lack of control over her own forthcoming marriage.

Also essential to the reorientation of the action within a system of class and formal structures was the extended presence of the Duke. Richard Franklin's kindly, wise ruler (borrowing heavily from Measure for Measure) benignly gifted his authority to Roderick in the opening scene, before settling back into a chair upstage to watch the remainder of the action. Franklin became a semi-choric figure: as Henrique approached Violante's lodging, he delivered the sententious "The voice of parents is the voice of gods" speech as a comment on Henrique's own treachery to his family and position. Later, he became the kindly servant to whom Violante entrusted her disguise, and the wandering gentleman who stayed with the mad Julio. The treatment of the character as partially choric was slightly confusing, as it made it difficult to determine whether the same actor was doubling multiple parts, or if we were meant to understand the separate roles as disguises of the Duke (a la Measure), but the stately presence of Franklin throughout did serve to remind the audience of the play's overarching power structures that limited the scope for disaster.

Adam Redmore as Henrique presented himself as a lovable cad to Leonora's mother and his own father, relying on his charm to excuse his excesses of emotion. In private with his victims, however, Redmore presented a truly despicable villain. A formidable intellect, arrogant in the security of power and privilege, tempered and licenced a violent lust that tormented his brain. Crucially, it was at this point that Friar Lopez (Richard Morse) appeared. Portions of the Fabian/Lopez dialogue were rewritten as the shocked comments of a nervous, hidden monk, who proclaimed the madness of the Duke's son as he forced himself upon the maid. It was at this point that the Duke and Lopez both left the stage, allowing Henrique to enact his crime. Violante stood, shaking and submissive, as Henrique stalked around her, before resisting as he grabbed her and began forcibly caressing her breasts. She struggled to disengage herself, and even as she appealed to him, her voice betrayed fear that he was beyond reason. The groundwork was thus laid for an onstage depiction of the rape. After Violante left the stage, Henrique paused for a moment, then whistled for Gerald, who dragged the struggling maid back on. Henrique punched her hard in the mouth, and she fell stunned to the floor. As he delivered his self-righteous justification ("Who am I, that am thus contemn'd?") directly to her in anger, he tormented the sobbing girl, straddling and then brutally violating her with a few sharp thrusts. Following the act, the two lay on the stage, before Henrique casually began his post-coital analysis of his own behaviour. He lay on his back, his head on Violante's squirming back, as he casually pointed out to her that this was no rape - before directing Gerald to drop a crumpled banknote on the girl's body.

This unobtrusive but intelligent approach to rewriting worked heavily in the production's benefit, demonstrating how with some simple transposition and physical juxtaposition of actors, the play needs little in the way of additions to be made coherent. The crudity of showing the rape was mitigated by the clarity of plot it offered, and the extent to which it complicated responses to Henrique. The Arden text was otherwise kept largely intact, although a couple of the more embarrassing or difficult lines for modern audiences were altered ("Under this stone lies poor Camillo" read the man's own delivered epitaph, and the ludicrously convenient "And, opportune, a vacant hearse pass'd by" was cut). Willmott explicitly drew inspiration from Cheek by Jowl's performance style, preferring a bare stage and the silent appearance of characters when referred to in order to make clear the inter-relations. This was sometimes overdone - Julio, for example, did not need to physically pull Henrique onto stage when telling Leonora who he was entrusting her care to - but helped clarify the play for an audience largely unfamiliar with the plot.

The production was set in and around a monastery, a coherence of setting which became a problem in the second act, as the same monks who had thrust Julio out of the abbey wedding appeared again to tend their flocks, giving the impression that Julio had only fled to a neighbouring field. The deeply ritualistic setting worked to offer a sense of dread and inevitability to events, most powerfully as Leonora waited agonisingly for Julio's arrival. As she wrung her hands, hooded monks entered and cirled the auditorium, chanting and ringing bells. As their voices rose, Leonora became more impassioned and desperate, climaxing as a monk broke away and grabbed her by the rest. Her fear was immediately replaced with joy at seeing Julio's face, a joy that faded quickly as, looking at the ring of monks, she realised she had no escape. The beauty of the setting was in the anonymity it accorded its extras and the ease with which it permitted disguise and revelation. Julio, in monk costume, faded back in among the other brothers; yet as Leonora defended herself against her mother and Henrique, she stuck close to Julio, kneeling at his feet as if confessing or praying. The institutional authority of the monks thus fascinatingly gave licence to both the arrogant Henrique and the overbearing Benita (who slapped her daughter heartily during their exchange), but also acted as moral, spiritual and sexual support for Leonora, who clutched at her lover/confessor even as she was dragged to the altar. Fittingly, the closing image before the interval was of Benita forcing Henrique and Leonora to kneel before Julio, who cast off his hood and cried "Hold! Mine is the elder claim" as a blackout fell.

As the action resumed in the second half, Leonora and Julio held hands and defied Donna Benita. Henrique, however, merely laughed - the monks (apart from the ever-bumbling Father Lopez) were in his pay, and at a click of his fingers they threw off their own hoods and attacked Julio, who was unceremoniously dragged and beaten offstage. William Reay, who had played Gerald, returned as the Master of the Flocks, repeating the violence he had condoned in his master as he grabbed Violante and thrust his groin against the struggling woman before Roderick's interruption. It was in these scenes that Sam Hoare's tall, imposing Roderick shone - a figure of benign power, his soft voice and manner contrasted with the roughness of the shepherds' Northern accents and harsh language; yet when provoked, as by his younger brother in the final act, Roderick's physique made him a threatening enemy. The "liberation" of Leonora from the nunnery involved the two brothers carrying in a coffin from which she emerged, disoriented. Roderick's sincere pacification of her turned into rage at his brother. He offered a physical threat to Henrique, and called after the departing Leonora to guarantee his protection, with an intensity that eventually mollified the furious girl.

The lynchpin of the production, however, was Gabriel Vick as Julio. Where Redmore's Henrique was a chaotic, dangerously transgressive presence, Vick's calm and measured reading of Julio gave the production heart. Julio was an endearingly open, and almost simple, young man, who gazed with wide eyes at those he interacted with. His affection for both Camillo and Leonora, however, was thrown into immediate conflict with their games of status (Camillo ordering his son to court) and love (Leonora feigning disinterest). His approach to resolving conflict was earnest, tending to frustration when he felt honesty was not forthcoming in return. As such, his later receipt of Leonora's letter (received by the ever-accommodating Lopez in the hush of the monastery) prompted a reaction of complete astonishment, that turned immediately into a dangerous anger. The growing desperation of the lovers was neatly depicted on stage through simple mirroring - after Leonora gave Lopez the letter, she remained onstage dressing for the wedding. As Julio delivered his "Hold out thy faith" speech, she stepped forward and the two stood beside one another, both wearing expressions of desperation.

Julio's conduct throughout the wedding scene displayed an increasingly erratic emotional state, especially in contrast to Henrique's cruel laughter. On his next appearance, in the fields, he emerged bloody and bruised, his eyes staring and his voice pleading rather than raving. His madness thus became the culmination of a gradual breakdown of trust, rendering the scene heartbreaking. The Duke/Gentleman and the sympathetic Lopez acted as audience surrogates, commenting sadly on his fall while the Master leaned on his crook and sneered. While Julio was eventually pushed to more violent behaviour, grabbing Lopez by the nose (to the Master's amusement), the overriding impression was one of sadness, particularly in his sincere instruction to Violante to kill herself. This mood extended into the climactic 4.2, in which Violante entered with hair down, singing beautifully. Julio and the Gentleman began by concealing themselves among the audience, but the fluid staging allowed Julio to emerge and stand next to Violante in wonder, listening intently to her words. As the two met and recognised one another, the process of healing began.

The closing scene completed this process of reunification by bringing together the various strands and motifs that had pervaded the production. The staging itself was formal and disappointingly dull - the Duke returned to his upstage chair, while Benita and Camillo sat in chairs downstage and to either side, forming a triangle of authority. Roderick's entrance was accompanied by the remainder of the cast in habits, who stood in a semicircle around the outskirts of the stage and were revealed one by one by Roderick. The anonymity of the "monks" worked perfectly for the series of revelations, and provided a source of dramatic intrigue - one by one, the Duke and Camillo walked towards the hooded Violante as she talked and peered under her cowl, remarking on the prettiness of the youth. Similarly, Julio kept his cowl on as long as possible, walking towards Leonora and prolonging the moment of revelation as she slowly recognised individual features that emerged from the shadow. Julio's emotional reunion with Leonora was relieved by Camillo, who rocked in his chair wrapped up in self-indulgent grief and refused point-blank to look at the lovers until Roderick took him by the shoulders and pointed him towards his son.

The fully-rounded conclusion of Julio and Leonora's story was, however, thrown finally into contrast with Henrique and Violante's. Redmore tested the limits of audience sympathy throughout the final scene as he antagonised his brother, mocked the disguised Violante and loudly proclaimed his innocence in the strongest possible terms. With his integrity so in question, the appearance of the nervous Violante in the same maid costume in which she had been raped was met with stony silence. Henrique continued to try to keep up an energetic attitude, performing his repentance with such fervour that his sincerity remained in question; and his request to his father to marry Violante was delivered quickly and efficiently, with the aim of getting it over with as quickly as possible. It was only once he was removed from centre-stage that the implications began to sink in; and, in the best tradition of the problem plays, it was this couple that were left alone onstage as the rest of the cast processed off. Turning to one another with a troubled expression, the lights faded to black. Henrique's performance of himself - whether as cad or as repentant prodigal - was finally over, and Violante looked as nervous as he.


August 18, 2010

Double Falsehood (KDC) @ The Union Theatre

While the claims of KDC to be presenting the 21st century premiere of Double Falsehood are at best questionable (a more accurate claim would be "the 21st century premiere of a play calling itself Double Falsehood"), the long-established London amateur company certainly offered a significant event in the public performance of this long-neglected play. Riding on the coat tails of the new Arden edition, and performed under a railway arch in Southwark, the production acknowledged the growing appreciation of Double Falsehood as a play in its own right, rather than as a bastardisation of a lost "original".

Barrie Addenbrooke's production began in a stately vein, with lavish period costumes and an evocative set of drapes and curtains that allowed for the possibility of concealed exits and entrances. The courtly setting of the first scene was well evoked, although a formal opening dance looked awkward in the cramped space available. The formality of the opening and the costumes, however, set far too dominant a tone for the rest of a play that is, after all, built around class conflict. With both Leonora and Violante richly dressed, the vast difference in their status was elided; and Julio was dressed identically throughout to Henriquez and Roderick, similarly ignoring the impact of his summoning to court and Camillo's social climbing. The effect was to make it seem as if most of the action of the first half was set at court, which particularly muted the transgressive quality of Henriquez's wooing of Violante, here even gifted a maid who gave Henriquez the key to Violante's bedroom for a reward of money and a kiss.

The formal treatment of the play's first half resulted in a tone that I found surprisingly serious. In particular, the first scene between Gareth Davies's Julio and Anita Constantine's Leonora downplayed the playfulness of Leonora's teasing in favour of a stately cool that gave way to genuine anxiety over the potential trials she might face - a valid reading, though lacking something of spark. Constantine excelled rather in showing the cracks as this formal and virtuous figure was subjected to repeated assaults, becoming increasingly distraught and desperate as she approached the wedding. Her Maid was turned into a Duenna (Niki Mylonas) who served a function reminiscent of the Nurse of Romeo and Juliet, coming to the fore as she took the dagger from Leonora before the wedding began, saving her charge from herself.

The severity of the play's first half extended to the fathers. While the more obviously comic exchanges remained such - most effectively as Richard Williams's Don Bernard acted innocent before Gary Mahoney's Camillo - the complaints of both men after the loss of their children were played in a state of near-depression. The humbling of Don Bernard was not the deflating of a pompous and controlling father figure, but the just punishment of an abusive father. Bernard was violent towards his daughter, casting her to the floor in anger at her refusal to wed Henriquez and dragging her to the altar during the wedding scene. His anger and rage (cf Capulet) established a force of genuine tyranny within the play that threatened to overshadow Henriquez's villainy.

Helen Kelly's Violante, on the other hand, was a lively and vivacious figure. In her first appearance, she emerged from her room to address Henriquez and proceeded to flirtatiously tease him, pacing around him, tipping her head coyly and allowing him to stroke her hair and shoulders, though shied away from kisses. Only as he began to manhandle her more freely did she lose her composure and eventually pull away from him in anger, before marching back into her room. All fired up, Henriquez paid the maid (Samantha Claver) and stalked in after Violante. The Maid then eyed up Gerald and seduced him onstage, pulling him off for her own liaison, neatly filling the rape-gap without having to add anything more explicit. The Maid remained an interestingly ambiguous figure throughout, becoming the Servant entrusted with procuring Violante's disguise. Violante's questioning of her trustworthiness and corruption took on a different emphasis in the light of what the audience knew had occurred, and even at this stage the Maid required large payments before agreeing to help.

Of the young men, Davies's Julio was frustratingly distant for much of the action, studiously ignoring the audience in soliloquy and maintaining a polite, quiet attitude throughout the play, with a delicacy even in his madness. Maxim Moya-Thompson played Roderick in a similar vein, though more appropriate to his role. Gareth Shaw had more success as Henriquez - yet again played with introspection, but here used to great effect, especially in his self-justifying after the rape. Kneeling at first in something approaching anguish, he then collected himself and sat casually on a bench as he questioned himself, drawing the audience into his interrogation and eventually winking at us in conspiracy as he left to pursue Leonora. His quiet maliciousness throughout the play was a constant pleasure, and his sickly wooing of Leonora balanced Don Bernard's aggressiveness nicely.

As the action approached the set pieces, the pace picked up. A bubbly townswoman replaced the gentleman who brings Julio and Leonora back together, as part of a general increase and expansion of female roles within the play. While this lost something (the trust Violante and Leonora place in the male servant and Citizen who they take into their confidence at crucial points reflects interestingly on their respective histories with men earlier in the play), it also enhanced the networks of female trust within the play, and the Townswoman took an active enthusiasm in helping Julio. She carried a basket of theatrical masks, and Julio adopted a disguise as the Devil to break up the wedding, to the effective screams of the Duenna. While the action of the wedding scene itself was a little perfunctory (Julio simply grabbed and dragged out), the disruption of the scene contrasted nicely with the formal blocking of the play's earlier scenes.

This gave way, following the interval, to a pastoral setting. Rather than the working fields implied by the text, we were instead treated to a festival akin to Act 4 of Winter's Tale, with shepherds of both genders celebrating rather than labouring in the fields, and the Master of the Flocks serving as the chief reveller. The distracted Julio was a source of amusement rather than fear to the shepherds (although Waylon Ma's amusing Second Shepherd was suitably put out by the grabbing of his nose and his rather physical besting by Julio), and his ravings were especially sober with the equally solemn Violante, effectively disguised as a boy.

One of the core strengths of this production was the clarity with which it presented action often dismissed as complicated or irretrievably butchered. Julio's madness was apparent, as was Roderick's organisation of the final reunions. Even more interestingly, Henriquez and Roderick's explanation of their plan to liberate Leonora from the nunnery was crystal clear, and their subsequent appearance rendered any "missing" action irrelevant. Leonora entered in confusion, surrounded by masked and armed men dressed in black. Roderick and Henriquez pulled off their masks to reveal and explain themselves, and Leonora's reaction mixed relief with disgust. For those directors who claim action is necessarily missing from Double Falsehood, Addenbrooke's production proved the effectiveness and permissibility of the text.

Of course, the ghost of Cardenio couldn't be completely exorcised. In the production's stand-out scenes, Fabian and Lopez (and later, the two Gentlemen) were replaced by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, riding pantomime versions of their horse and ass. Quixote quoted famous lines from Shakespeare in a convoluted commentary on the main action, while Sancho filled in with responses and clowning. The introduction of these two livened up their scenes considerably, and acted as a dramatically powerful counter to Henriquez's post-rape scene, relieving the tension of the latter's admissions. It also allowed for a nice moment in the latter scene where, at Violante's mention of Henriquez, Quixote and Sancho Panza shared a glance, clearly recalling their earlier encounter with that lord. These scenes provided the main comic interest of the play, and certainly made a powerful case to me for the effectiveness of introducing the knight and his squire.

A final scene of reunification resumed a more comic tone, particularly as Camillo lost himself in his own grief and missed the revelation of Julio taking place centre stage. Julio entered disguised as a mariachi, and Leonora removed his disguise one piece at a time in a surprisingly moving sequence. The bringing together of Henriquez and Violante was also effective, promising nothing extraordinary but allowing the prince to show a tenderness towards Violante that came naturally from his character. The Duke's ennobling of Violante drew laughs, however; this final piece of hitherto neglected information one too many for a modern audience to take.

This production's key importance was in demonstrating how well Double Falsehood can work on its own terms, without apology. Despite some of the above reservations (and I should say, this was the first performance), KDC proved the play to be an effective, entertaining and often extremely funny piece, but one that also taps into key issues and provides a solid emotional payoff at its conclusion. Hopefully, the availability of a modern edited text and the success of this production will inspire more directors to see what they can find in it.


June 27, 2010

Double Falsehood (Warwick Shakespeare Society) @ Warwick Arts Centre

Today was the Warwick Shakespeare Society's rehearsed reading of Double Falsehood, which I've been involved in as a sort of dramaturg. I've already covered the rehearsal process in detail here, here and here, so this is just a quick note on the final performance, which I was finally able to sit down and enjoy.

I gave a very quick introduction to the historical context of the play and the debates over whether or not it does preserve something of the original, and to what we were doing today (to wit: a reading-plus rather than a production-minus). Not sure that the format was to everyone's taste - one couple left after two minutes, presumably having expected a full bells-and-whistles version, but no matter.

The cast did a fantastic job, really bringing the play to life. I'd been interested to see how coherent the action was, and while I obviously have something of an advantage in knowing the plot, I was pleased to find it very straightforward, helped by the linearity of the structure.

Special mention to Nick Collins and Emma Taylor, who turned Don Bernard and Leonora into a brilliant comedy act, the daughter teasing her father constantly while the father blundered on blindly. The comedy dynamic between Don Bernard and Lawrence Gibson's Camillo was also brought out extremely nicely, with Gibson getting most of the biggest laughs. I was also particularly impressed with Lily Walker's Epilogue, which struck a fascinatingly edgy tone between making fun of the frozen cast, and critiquing the laughter of the audience.

The problems of cross-dressing and disguises were largely overcome. We realised that our blocking didn't allow Jo Foakes enough time to change back into her female clothes during the final scene, but she carried off the transition with simple changes in posture, which the dialogue in any case made abundantly clear. The final scene in general worked extremely well, although it left the small stage rather cluttered; and Julio's unrecognised presence was rendered by simply having him turned away and hiding his face from Leonora.

The change in tone moving to Act 4 is really significant, and if we'd had time it would have been great to insert an interval. As it was, the comedy of the shepherds and Julio's madness (which is amusing on some levels, although heartbreaking on others, and Tom Hutchinson did a great job with this) followed on very abruptly from the previous scene, but if nothing else this only made the transition all the clearer. The before-and-after of Henriquez's rape of Violante, however, was very sudden. In the original text, there's an act break between the two, which would presumably help with showing the passage of time; as it was, Simon Neill's shift from anticipation to conscience-wrestling did the work instead.

There were plenty of other really nice touches. Tim Kaufmann's Master of the Flocks was entertainingly lecherous, rubbing his thighs and getting extremely hot and bothered at Violante's "innuendo" - Brean Hammond may not recognise it as such, but this performance convinced me that this scene is extremely bawdy. A few of the smaller roles felt undeveloped - it's a shame, for example, that Fabian and Lopez appear and disappear so quickly, which doesn't help the sense much - but I found the doubling of Ronnie Bassett and Sam Jefferyes as the Shepherds and Gentlemen gave a much more structured arc to the fourth act, the two spending enough time with Julio to allow a relationship to build up on stage.

Several of the more stagey devices were dropped in practice, such as Violante's "dropping" of her letter which was then to be picked up by Henriquez on his subsequent entrance; and Leonora's faint at the wedding was staged much more simply. For this scene, the rest of the cast all stood up, making the scene far more public, which looked nice. We also retained the long walk of Josh Cockcroft's Citizen between his receiving the letter from Leonora and his delivery of it to Julio, which linked those scenes together extremely effectively.

Finally, the dynamics between the major male characters were extremely interesting. There's a displacement of authority in the very first scene which established Sam Sturrock's Roderick as the proxy of power and the agent of intervention throughout the play, and the movements of Roderick, Henriquez and Julio towards their final unity really drove the play. I'd love, if I had the chance to be involved in a more substantial production one day, to explore these male friendships in action, because these bonds strongly frame the action. What this reading did, though, was bring out the importance of Roderick in effecting the various solutions to the play's problems, and the final patterned union worked neatly.

I'm really pleased to have had the chance, at long last, to be involved in a performance-based experiment, and I'm extremely impressed with how quickly the cast and director Sophie Gilpin pulled together a fluent, clear and thoroughly interesting reading. It'd be great to see more small-scale projects like this at Warwick, though I understand that time and money inevitably favour a few dedicated big productions over the smaller events. I got a great deal out of it though, and I hope the audience did too.


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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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