A Life of Galileo, Swan Theatre Stratford, 16 March 2013
Galileo’s whiteboard, laser pointer and adjustable desk lamp stood before a back wall composed of an oversized sheet of bright blue graph paper. Dot matrix signboards indicated the date and location of scenes. Clerks brandished voice recorders.
Thanks to these visual cues and the infectious enthusiasm with which Galileo (Ian McDiarmid) pursued his seventeenth century battle with authority, the production succeeded in transforming historical events into an incredibly modern-feeling escapade.
At the centre stood the fun-loving scientist whose earthy appetites and effervescent joy in his work made him an appealing figure. A tangible excitement spilled off the stage when he told a companion that he had discovered what constituted the Milky Way, an excitement capable of inspiring the audience to sally forth and find new worlds of their own.
The scene in which the young Cosimo de Medici (Chris Lew Kum Hoi), circling the stage on a spangly kick scooter, was presented with an opportunity to view the stars named in his honour, brought out the comic stupidity of the established academic order.
Asked to view the stars (the moons of Jupiter) through the telescope, the doubters could only dispute whether the alleged objects orbiting Jupiter were really necessary. When urged to use their eyes, the response was that they could use them to read the thoughts of Aristotle, a long-dead Greek whose untested ideas dominated official astronomy.
The flip side to this light-heartedness was the way in which a firm contrast was drawn between Galileo’s trust in the people and their ability to discern right from wrong, and the opposing viewpoint, in which cynicism about ordinary people’s collective intellect became a justification for political conservatism. If people are basically ignorant cattle, then they require herding and paternal government by their betters.
There were two fine and chillingly complementary performances by Martin Turner, first as Galileo’s friend Sagredo, who warned him about the threat of the Inquisition, and then as the Cardinal Inquisitor himself.
But there was always something relentlessly upbeat about Galileo so that his sly appropriation of the Dutch telescope as his own invention was something to smile at rather than a fatal error that would eventually undermine his reputation.
This production added comedy by making the university rector into a woman (Nia Gwynne) with a giddy crush on Galileo when he was popular, but who hid herself behind a clipboard and hurried away from him once he had fallen foul of the authorities.
The Old Cardinal (Patrick Romer) who insisted that the earth he stood on did not move, stamped his feet as he walked, shifting into a distinctive fascistic goose step, while behind him Christopher Clavius (Paul Hamilton) was in the process of verifying the truth of Galileo’s observations.
For some reason the translation prepared by Mark Ravenhill from a literal translation by Deborah Gearing removed perhaps the funniest joke in the play. During the Medici Stars scene, someone remarked that the new telescope allows people to see all the hairs on the great bear, to which lens grinder Federzoni, here a donkey-jacketed working man (Paul Hamilton again), usually quips back “and all sorts of things on the bull!” But this remark was puzzlingly (pizzlingly?) absent.
And this being the RSC, it was difficult not to notice that the text contained an illusion to the world being a stage on which ordinary people were actors, as well as Galileo’s rhetorical statement “That is the question”.
Galileo’s insistence that no one could watch a stone fall to the ground and say it had fallen upwards had its impact greatly increased by having Galileo sat on top of a tall ladder tower, enabling him to drop the stone from a great height onto the ground, rather than letting it fall a few feet from his side, as the moment is often staged.
It was only by the interval when his daughter Virginia (Jodie McNee) interrupted his sun spot experiments wearing her wedding dress to complain that her fiancé, disturbed by Galileo’s continuing defiant enquiries, had left her, that there was a real sense of events taking a turn for the worse. Galileo’s response to the implosion of his daughter’s happiness was a blunt reference back to his ongoing work “I must know the truth”.
The Inquisition took Galileo into its grasp, forcing his recantation of his Copernican theories and confining him to a life of guarded seclusion. Galileo might have acted old and infirm, but the memories of his former activism were too firmly entrenched and too intrinsically appealing for his defeat to seem real.
This meant that the hopeful ending, in which his friend Andrea (Matthew Aubrey) smuggled a copy of his latest work out of the country to spark flames of research elsewhere, felt unnecessary because Galileo had been surrounded all along by the kind of modern technology made possible by his model of science.
His ultimate victory had been hidden in plain sight all along.
A Tender Thing, Swan Stratford, 6 October 2012
Ben Power’s remarkable production was a reworking of the text of Romeo and Juliet with the central roles reimagined as a middle-aged couple. It utilised ambiguities in the original’s vocabulary and some of its specific references to age.
The Swan stage had bare, light blue boards up to a sandy downstage margin. A screen for projections hung in the arch. A freestanding door, which could be brought forward, and a bed were positioned upstage.
Richard McCabe was a portly, ebullient Romeo while Kathryn Hunter played a lithe, skittish Juliet. Kathryn Hunter’s body looked like a collection of parts reassembled in a new order, coincidentally the same process applied here to the text of the play.
The performance began with Romeo sat in a chair as a projection of the sea washed over him (Prologue). His first words were “Give me the light”, at which point the stage was lit and he moved upstage to where Juliet was lying ill in bed.
He continued to speak of the “detestable maw” and “tomb of death” taken from 5.3 where Romeo is addressing Juliet’s apparently lifeless body in the Capulet tomb. This was edited to remove the references to Tybalt, a crucial change so that Romeo spoke of “With And worms that are thy shalt be our chambermaids”.
Juliet rose from the bed and they danced together speaking lines taken from throughout the play, ending with Juliet’s “Give me thy hand”.
Romeo talked of his fervent love for Juliet using his lines addressed to Benvolio, lines spoken by Lady Capulet about Paris, as well as by Capulet about himself (Scene One).
He was quite chirrupy as a middle-aged man in love: “O heavy lightness! serious vanity!” Romeo sat in a chair stage right and handed a front row audience member his champagne flute. At “Read o’er the volume of her glorious face” he toured the front row showing them a photo of Juliet he kept in his wallet.
Juliet entered through the door causing Romeo to respond “But soft! What light through yonder doorway breaks!” Juliet rolled her eyes and went back out again. This was funny, but the comedy seemed to rely on this exchange being a joke consciously referencing the original play for humorous effect.
Once Juliet had gone, Romeo continued with that speech until Juliet re-entered. He remarked “It is my lady, O, it is my love” as Juliet sat in the chair silently taking the champagne glass that had been left with an audience member. She put her hand on her cheek, prompting Romeo’s comment “that I might touch that cheek!”
Juliet moved centre stage and began “Gallop apace…” with some alterations so that instead of “strange love, grown bold” she spoke of “young love, grown old”. She took his jacket from the back of the chair and put it on herself, which overwhelmed her as it was too big. But it was the next best thing to having him. This was characteristic of the textual tweaking to adapt the original to the age of the characters.
Romeo grasped her from behind and fondled her chest, to which she responded coyly “O gentle Romeo”. They reverted to an almost straight run-through of dialogue from the balcony scene. Juliet placed his jacket back on him and they seemed very tactile and in love.
Romeo swore by the moon, and Juliet asked “what satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” leading into an exchange partly based on fragments of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Juliet spoke the first seven lines of Sonnet 73:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away.
This introduced a theme of ageing and yellowing leaves.
Romeo replied with the beginning of Sonnet 104:
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still.
and part of Sonnet 102:
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
He also spoke some invented lines concluding with the modern sounding “The universe I see when I see you”.
Juliet left through the door but returned shortly afterwards.
The young Juliet’s forgetfulness in the balcony scene “I have forgot why I did call thee back” was comically transformed into this Juliet’s senior moment with Romeo jokingly promising to “stand here till thou remember it”. They eventually parted in “sweet sorrow”.
Romeo entered down the stage right walkway in a dressing gown (Scene Two). Starting with Friar Laurence’s description of “The grey-eyed morn”, he described a dream in which he saw Juliet piercing herself with a knife, using the Nurse’s description of Tybalt’s wound. He stood over Juliet in the bed as she tossed and turned, writhing in agony, as he said:
I saw the wound, I saw it with mine eyes,–
A piteous corse, a bloody piteous corse;
Pale, pale as ashes, all bedaub’d in blood,
All in gore-blood; I swounded at the sight.
Romeo used Friar Laurence’s remark that “violent delights have violent ends”.
Juliet awoke and came forward in a bath robe. Romeo told her of his troublesome dream. She comforted him with dialogue borrowed from other characters. She turned on a radio telling him “We must have you dance”: Mercutio’s line to the love-struck Romeo. As the radio played Dean Martin singing Sway, she began to dance, peeling back her bath robe to reveal her swimsuit underneath.
Romeo continued to talk about his bad dream, describing his “soul of lead”. This continued with Juliet speaking Mercutio’s lines in response to Romeo (“friend” changed to “wife”) until Juliet launched in Mercutio’s wonderful Queen Mab speech.
She agreed that in talking of dreams she was talking of nothing, inserting “thy fearful, deathful dreams” before “which are the children of an idle brain” to persuade Romeo that his bad dream was another kind of nothing.
She took Romeo’s lines from 5.1 to insist that “My dreams presage some joyful news at hand”.
Romeo concluded with his own lines from the start of 2.1 “Can I go forward when my heart is here? Turn back, dull earth, and find thy centre out.”
They began to dance, but almost immediately Juliet went into a spasm as her leg gave way under her. She collapsed to the ground. This was the first indication that something was seriously wrong with her.
The next scene (Three) saw a marked deterioration in Juliet’s condition. She sat in a chair and tried to clutch a photo album. Her grip was so weak that it fell from her hand several times. On each occasion Romeo replaced it. She spoke a modified version of the Nurse’s lines about Juliet as if speaking of her own dead child. A photo of the child was projected onto the screen. She said she was expecting news using lines from when she awaited the return of the Nurse.
Romeo busied himself at the other side of the stage as if in the garden collecting herbs, using Friar Laurence’s relevant lines. He picked a herb and looked it up in his small plant guide. In view of later developments, Romeo’s plant gathering was of notable significance.
The scene switched to Juliet alone in bed. She awoke and, using an invented line, described how “A deadly sickness now chills up my veins” followed by lines from herself and Romeo to describe her condition, concluding with “O, break, my heart! poor bankrupt, break at once!”
She climbed out of bed and collapsed on the ground. Romeo entered to find her there and, letting fall the flowers he had brought her, tried to lift her up. He pulled on her arm three times but could not support her. Each time she fell back she offered up a single frail arm for him to grasp.
The scene changed back to Juliet in her chair. Romeo brought her a letter. This was obviously some sort of medical report, because when she showed Romeo the contents, he asked whether she were “past hope, past cure, past help?” words originally used by Juliet herself.
Juliet confirmed the bad news using Capulet’s lines “All things that we ordained festival, turn from their office to black funeral”. But Romeo reassured her of his support using part of Sonnet 116 “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken”. He picked her up and danced with her.
Romeo expressed his dismay using a rearranged part of Sonnet 65:
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
Since Not brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power…
The end of this was completed by Juliet:
…How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
Romeo continued with a version of Sonnet 64:
That O Time will come and take my love away.
And, pale, I cower to think upon that day [invented line]
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
Juliet used an amended Friar Laurence line to tell Romeo that she knew he would expect her to “bear this work of heaven with patience”.
Using invented lines mixed with some altered originals, Juliet expressed her wish “to choose to sleep” rather than continue to suffer.
Romeo responded with an altered Capulet line “Death, that hath ta’en her would take thee hence to make me wail, ties up my tongue, and will not let me speak.”
Juliet’s preference for death over slow, undignified decline was expressed using altered lines about her dislike of Paris, so that she would prefer to leap from battlements rather than die slowly. An invented line insisted that Romeo should “help me sleep”.
With the word “Go” now standing euphemistically for dying, Romeo insisted that he would go with her. He complained that “every little mouse, every unworthy thing” in heaven would be able to see her and “Romeo may not”.
Juliet borrowed Friar Laurence’s lines to chide Romeo for his “womanish tears” with Romeo rebuking her “Thou cut’st my head off with a golden axe, and smilest upon the stroke that murders me.”
Juliet used lines original spoken by Benvolio to tell Romeo to find another love: “Take thou some new infection to thy eye” and “Compare her my face with some those that I soon shall show, and I that will make thee think thy swan a crow.” But this offended the “devout religion” of Romeo’s eye.
In a reversal of roles, Romeo wished that Juliet would go “no further than a wanton’s bird, who lets it hop a little from her hand”. They sank to the floor to sing “O mistress mine” from Twelfth Night, with its telling lines “What’s to come is still unsure” and “Youth’s a stuff will not endure”.
Juliet was in a wheelchair for the next scene (Four). Romeo had to position her feet on its foot rest as she had now lost the use of her legs. Juliet spoke part of Sonnet 65:
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
With Romeo responding with part of Sonnet 64 and a recurrence of an invented line used in the previous scene:
Time will come and take my love away.
And, pale, I cower to think upon that day
The same exchange was repeated twice with a blackout between to indicate the passage of time during which she had deteriorated to the point of being fed with a spoon, but spat the food out again.
After she had been fed, Romeo lifted her up and washed her face with a cloth.
At one point in this sequence, she appeared to revive completely and danced feverishly, brandishing apparently healthy legs in what might have been her waking dream or wish fulfilment fantasy.
Romeo placed Juliet in her bed where she tossed and turned. She used Capulet’s “all things now change them to the contrary” and also Mercutio’s dying words about being “peppered”.
She spoke like a demented person using the Nurse’s lines about the baby Juliet to talk of her dead daughter. Romeo turned his back in resignation using Lady Capulet’s “Enough of this. I prithee, hold thy peace.” But Juliet continued, just as the Nurse did, using slightly altered lines to pursue the same subject.
Romeo questioned her using Capulet’s image of the tearful Juliet being like “a bark, a sea, a wind”.
Juliet chillingly used altered lines of Romeo’s to ask him, “Doth thou not think me an old murderer”. The last two words were very apt to this reworking of the play.
Juliet openly asked Romeo to kill her with poison, intimating “I do spy a kind of hope” that she would “soon sleep in quiet”. Romeo promised “I’ll help thee hence”.
A solitary Romeo announced that he had dreamt of an apothecary, using his original description of the shop he had visited (Scene Five). But he was already in possession of the “soon-speeding gear as will disperse itself through all the veins that the life-weary taker may fall dead”. He went to the front of the stage and picked up a small blue bottle which had been there throughout the entire performance.
Scene Six began as a replay of the Prologue with Juliet in bed as Romeo approached, addressing the sight as “thou detestable maw, thou womb of death”, but this time with the context of Juliet’s degenerative illness adding new meaning.
Instead of continuing with Romeo’s words over Juliet’s body in the tomb, the production reverted to an edited version of “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun”.
Juliet said “What must be shall be” to which Romeo replied “That’s a certain text”. Using Friar Laurence’s line as a prelude to their suicide pact was quite disturbing.
In an invented line, Juliet told Romeo not to think of present woes but on “the years of joy and peace behind”. Romeo took the blue bottle into the bed with him as the pair settled down for the night.
Juliet awoke and articulated her fears “What if his mixture does not work at all”, which would mean that she when she woke the next day “shall I not be distraught, environed with all these hideous fears”. The “hideous fears” here were not the bones of the Capulet tomb but her own fears about her future deterioration.
The couple went into a role reversed version of the lark/nightingale exchange, with Romeo speaking Juliet’s lines, hearing the nightingale, not wanting her to “go” i.e. die, and Juliet using Romeo’s lines about the lark and leaving for Mantua. Romeo eventually accepted Juliet’s version and agreed it was morning that she would soon “go”.
Romeo administered the poison to her with a hushed “Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast.”
Returning to lines from the balcony scene, Juliet wished Romeo farewell. He asked her if they would ever see each other again. She doubted it not and concluded with Romeo’s “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”
Romeo watched her die as he uttered the fragment “Adieu, adieu. Parting is…” Realising she was dead, he kissed her using a Juliet line “My dismal scene I needs must act alone”. He exclaimed “Here’s to my love”, drank from the bottle and fell dead beside her.
After a period of stillness the pair rose from their deathbed looking bright and refreshed. In this Epilogue we saw them falling in love for the first time at the Capulet ball. Romeo remarked on the lady enriching the hand of knight and launched into the famous “If I profane with my unworthiest hand…” This sequence continued until Juliet told him he kissed by the book.
They both spoke “O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard. Being in night, all this is but a dream, too flattering-sweet to be substantial.” Juliet concluded with “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night. Give me thy hand.”
They took each other by the hand and walked away, Romeo finally putting a comforting arm around Juliet.
The ending felt slightly odd because it represented a much earlier point in time, but did not contain sufficient cues to make this convincing. The text assumes that the couple look younger, but such a quick change cannot be made in their appearance.
Viewed another way, the ending could be a fantasy shared by the dying couple rather than an actual re-enactment of the beginning of their relationship.
The use of Shakespeare’s sonnets to insert truly adult sentiment into a story of young love was seamless and effective.
The power of language was used to express the heightened emotions engendered by love against a backdrop of sickness rather than health. But then perhaps love is at its most intense at precisely the moments when it is so severely tested.
Troilus and Cressida, Swan Stratford, 10 August 2012
Director Mark Ravenhill kept of tally of the number of walkouts from the early performances, while The Wooster Group responded to one individual’s complaint that it was “most offensive” by congratulating themselves on the superlative.
This was an experimental production that elicited an extreme response from some spectators.
The co-production between the RSC and The Wooster Group had each company rehearse separately. The resulting clash of theatrical styles was intended to reflect the clash of nations in the play.
The RSC played the Greeks as British/Commonwealth troops using their standard acting and staging, while The Wooster Group under their director Elizabeth LeCompte played the Trojans as Native Americans using innovative techniques. The most remarkable of these saw the actors copying the movements of (mostly Inuit) people from film extracts shown on four monitors at the corners of the thrust.
Each group used one side of a revolve. The Wooster Group had a tipi and campfire to represent the Trojan camp, while on the other side the RSC played against a mirror with a hospital trolley and screen used for Achilles’ tent. The divide was turned edge on for the later scenes where both sides came together in battle.
Dispensing with the prologue (reinserted for London run), the performance began with Troilus (Scott Shepherd) telling Pandarus (Greg Mehrten) of his love for Cressida (1.1). They wore Native American garb and talked in a flat monotone, meant to approximate to an authentic speech pattern.
This had the effect of making the text appear to emanate from a strange alien culture. Indeed, from a 21st century British perspective, the world of the Native Americans is no less foreign than that of the historic Trojans. The Wooster Group staging brought out this cultural distance very effectively. Placing the language of Shakespeare in this setting also served to remind us of the cultural gap between us and the early modern culture that shaped the play.
Pandarus was slightly camp and paunchy. He had a blue bottle, which he held to his side of his head and jerked backwards as if drinking from it. This was a sideways nod to native alcoholism. He also intermittently sang a song about an historical land grab.
Aeneas (Andrew Schneider) wore armour made from Styrofoam in the form of a Greek statue strapped to his back. He asked why Troilus was not on the field of battle
When Pandarus spoke to Cressida (Marin Ireland) in praise of Troilus, she avoided eye-contact with him, looking instead at the monitors facing her at the front of the thrust (1.2). Whether this was the result of her monitor-watching or an attempt to replicate native avoidance of eye-contact with a respected person, she appeared to be strangely absent from events. This made her wonderfully enigmatic. This departure from naturalistic acting was compelling to watch.
Pandarus and Cressida watched the Trojans returning from battle with Cressida climbing to the top of the tipi for a better view.
Cressida explained one obscure term by expanding it, so that she spoke of “a bawd (a pimp)”. Given the opacity of much of the language this was an odd word to elucidate.
Cressida’s final speech in 1.2, in which she admitted liking Troilus but did not want to seem too keen “Achievement is command; ungained, beseech”, was especially moving. She was enigmatically distracted, perhaps the outward sign of deep-seated love for Troilus.
As with other non-standard practices within The Wooster Group’s scenes, it had the effect of focusing on the spoken word. The overload of novelty almost cancelled out the theatrical to make it a reading.
The revolve turned to show a plain mirrored wall as the Greeks entered to the sound of pumping music looking exuberant (1.3). But the music quickly went silent and the Greeks physically wilted. Unsuccessful in battle, they lay wounded, one on a hospital bed.
This brief sequence formed a prologue showing their confident arrival to besiege Troy and the subsequent lack of success that had broken their morale.
The rapid transition from bravado to despondency made sense of Agamemnon’s (Danny Webb) opening question “What grief hath set the jaundice on your cheeks?” He waved a small book saying their problems were the “trials of great Jove”.
Ulysses pinned down to the problem to Achilles’ lack of respect. Scott Handy’s Ulysses was the stand-out performance on the RSC side. When he spoke it was like he had his own personal key that unlocked the power of the language.
Like all the Greeks in this first scene Ulysses wore modern camouflage trousers, his look completed with some bookish glasses. Ajax and Thersites changed out of these standard uniforms later on into distinctive outfits.
Joe Dixon’s Achilles was indeed puffed up with self regard. He looked strong as he strutted around bare-chested, flexing a bicep when his name was mentioned. Ulysses fondled Achilles a little too enthusiastically when talking of his sinew. Ulysses read from his notebook as Achilles and Patroclus (Clifford Samuel) acted out his verbal account of their lampooning.
The parts of Nestor and Patroclus were doubled so that the actor was effectively doing an impression of his performance in the other role.
The entry of the Trojan Aeneas to bring Hector’s challenge saw the Greeks go into a formation, stamping their feet to punctuate their lines without looking at the arrival. In a show of bravado they all answered in chorus, with Agamemnon eventually coming forward to speak with him individually.
The conspiracy of Ulysses and Nestor to bring Achilles to heel by arranging for Ajax (Aidan Kelly) to answer the challenge was engagingly presented.
Thersites (Zubin Varla) was a Lily Savage style character, similar to that seen in Cheek By Jowl’s production, but this one was in a wheelchair, kneeling as if legless (2.1). His chair sported a pair of comedy breasts slung at the back and a hand-held microphone slotted into a stand on the arm.
Ajax wore a muscle body suit, had long straggly hair and red-tinted glasses, making him very reminiscent of Mickey Rourke’s wrestler. His body suit had tattoos including his name in Greek; the words “I’m awesome” and a Nike swoosh with Greek writing underneath in a nod to the goddess of victory. He moved around as if mid-bout in a series of standardised moves.
In another simplification, Thersites’ reference to “brach” became “bitch”. Annoyed by Thersites’ refusal to tell him about the proclamation, Ajax lifted the fool out of his chair and threw him to the ground, but he was subsequently replaced in it by Achilles.
The revolve switched back to the Trojan set again as Cassandra (Jibz Cameron) crawled out from the tipi to deliver her prophecies of doom (2.2). The oddness of her monotone delivery accentuated the strangeness of her warnings.
The Trojans passed round a peace pipe and discussed whether to keep Helen. Everyone was relieved when Hector came round to Troilus’ opinion and agreed that she should stay.
Bitter Thersites reared out of his seat wishing the bone-ache on the whole camp (2.3). His lines were altered so that his reference to “war for a placket” became for “the slit”.
A curtain in front of a hospital trolley represented Achilles tent, near which Patroclus stood in gold high heels. Thersites went into the tent and sat reading the Penguin Classic edition of Homer’s Iliad.
Annoyed with the continuing insolence, Agamemnon brought Patroclus to heel, hooking his neck with an umbrella. Patroclus exited at the back of the set to return from the walkway as Nestor, which was a great switch.
Ulysses showed himself to be a consummate actor when stoking Ajax’s sense of self worth, convincing him that it was below his dignity to go to Achilles rather than have Achilles come to him.
The scene ended with Agamemnon drawing lots from a hat with Ajax the winner and thus the candidate to fight Hector.
In Priam’s (Bruce Odland) palace musicians played “Love, love, nothing but love” with added line “All you need is love” as Pandarus had a comic exchange with the Servant (3.1). This sequence allowed for Scott Handy to change costume to emerge as Helen.
But when he emerged as the slightly frumpy looking object of Paris’ (Gary Wilmes) attention, the whole scenario looked odd. However, the re-emergence of Scott Handy after this interlude pointed towards the intriguing possibility that this might have been deliberately inserted because Helen was originally doubled with one of the Greek officers.
Paris and Helen hugged when he insisted that she should help him to disarm Hector (Ari Fliakos).
The time came for boy and girl to meet. Troilus speech in expectation of seeing Cressida (3.2) provided another instance of the play’s exotically beautiful language being complemented by the ‘noble savagery’ of the Trojans.
When Cressida appeared before Troilus, she wore a small veil. She turned away as indicated in text and the “billing” saw her rub her noses with her love.
The world of love works by its own rules. As if to bring this out, this sequence saw Troilus and Cressida coordinate their movements with monitor images to a strikingly obvious extent.
They struck blows at each other in time with a red flash that appeared on screen as they assiduously copied the film. They fell to ground as if shocked by electricity, not for any textual reason, but solely in imitation of the video sequence on the monitor.
More naturalistically, Cressida rested her head on Troilus’ chest as per a clip from a post-war Hollywood movie.
The Americans’ trademark technique reached epic heights of absurdity in a sequence in which Troilus and Cressida began by hugging; she then knelt before him as he put his hands around her neck as if strangling her, after which they lay on the ground. These actions had no relation to the dialogue and were all copied from the film displayed on the monitors.
One possible explanation for this bizarre sequence is that it coincided with a moment of intense emotion in the play and was designed to emphasise its significance.
Troilus carried Cressida away without kissing her as they went off to bed, at which point the interval came.
The Greeks entered and the revolve turned back to the mirror at the start of the second half (3.3). Calchas (Scott Shepherd again) wore an all-encompassing foam suit to request the prisoner swap that would return his daughter Cressida to him.
Agamemnon changed into an Australian Diomedes by deftly swapping hats. The choice of an Australian accent for this lusty character played on an ocker stereotype.
This doubling was overtly theatrical. It was fun, cheeky and put attention back on the language as the hat change character swap underscored the unrealistic nature of what we were seeing, rather like a pause at a poetry reading when the page is turned.
Notifying the intended swap to the Trojans, Diomedes’ lascivious intentions towards Cressida irritated Troilus.
The Greek commanders went to work on Achilles trying to manipulate him out of his sulk. He seemed flattered at first, and proud, because he assumed that the general had come to speak with him. But Agamemnon paused when saying “What says… Achilles” as if having to be reminded of his name.
When Achilles realised that he was being slighted, he began to cry “What, am I poor of late?” He pointed at Patroclus when talking of “beauty born in the face”. And his reference to a woman’s longing to see Hector was made explicit when he finally met him.
Ulysses engaged Achilles with an intellectual intensity that indicated that he thought the soldier incapable of seeing through his ruse. But Achilles was unmoved. There was some light relief when Patroclus and Thersites mimicked Ajax.
The handover of Cressida to the Greeks saw Diomedes and Aeneas wrestle each other by placing a thumb in the mouth of their opponent (4.1). This fitted with their talk of future conflict beyond the present truce. Diomedes dispraised Helen saying “She’s bitter to her cunt-try”. Paris waved a charm in front of Diomedes’ face to ward off his trickery.
Cressida and Troilus appeared briefly before stealing off into the tent where they kissed (4.2). Aeneas called and Pandarus tried to send him away, but he eventually gained admittance.
Cressida was upset to hear that she had to leave. She picked up Troilus’ boots and carried them, walking in a circle, then put them on and walked in them awkwardly. She knelt and scratched her thighs, which bore marks as if she had habitually injured herself in that way.
The brief scene 4.3 was cut, so that the action continued with the young couple exchanging love tokens (4.4). Troilus and Cressida swapped a sleeve and a glove, which were transferred to the other’s arm by linking them and pulling the items across in one go. This emphasised the unbreakable connection between them. The lascivious Diomedes collected Cressida.
On the day of the combat, Ajax was wheeled in standing on a trolley to the sound of rock music (4.5). He played guitar rather than the event being heralded by trumpets.
Cressida was brought in and was immediately noticed. The Greeks did not physically kiss her or touch her, instead their attention to her was symbolised. They brought their arms together sharply at the wrists as they stamped, a display that emphasised the martial force of their attraction.
Cressida took off her native dress onstage and replaced it with a Greek dress in a brief moment of partial nudity. Menelaus tried his luck and puckered up, but Cressida refused. Ulysses spoke to Cressida with his back turned and was rebuffed.
Hector and Ajax wrestled but the Trojan refused to finish off Ajax as they were related. At this point Achilles burst in wearing a red dress saying he had “fed mine eyes on thee…” Achilles responded dramatically to Hector, preening as he told him to “Behold thy fill”. Achilles’ promise to destroy Hector “there, or there, or there” ended with rude suggestion.
During the evening’s festivities, Troilus asked Ulysses to help him find Cressida.
Thersites gave a letter to Achilles and then started railing as Achilles withdrew to read the letter, which he tore up in despair because it had reminded him of his promise not to fight (5.1).
Ulysses escorted Troilus to see Cressida (5.2) and the two men positioned themselves stage left to observe. Thersites sat upstage in his chair. Cressida appeared stage right with Diomedes and vacillated as she was tempted by the Greek.
Troilus grew ever more despondent as his love’s lack of constancy became apparent. Thersites provided a cynical commentary on events punctuated with interjections such as “Fry, lechery, fry”.
Cressida gave Diomedes the sleeve gifted to her by Troilus. She immediately changed her mind and took it back, but this retrieval was yet another of Cressida’s strangely absent and dispassionate moments. The line “Nay do not snatch it from me” was given to Cressida, so that she spoke it with resignation after Diomedes had taken the sleeve once again.
Her wonderful parting speech “Troilus farewell” was full of emptiness. Drained of all happiness, she lay down on the ground. Troilus moved upstage of her and mirrored her posture.
After she left, Troilus came forward and lay on exactly the same spot she had occupied in precisely the same pose. His words “Was Cressid here?” became one of the great moments of the performance. So desperate was Troilus to be at one with his lost love, that he tried to occupy the space she had just vacated, as if that spot retained some aura with which it was possible to communicate. He attempted this almost physical unity with Cressida in the face of overwhelming evidence of her emotional absence. This was and was not Cressid.
Troilus used a knife to start cutting up the glove Cressida had given him. Ulysses tried to stop him. But Troilus continued stabbing at the glove, crying “False, false, false!”
His anguished speech was peppered with references to the gods of classical mythology. The exoticism of these invocations was accentuated by them emanating from a Native American.
Thersites summarised the action with his incredibly cynical “Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery”.
Hector’s household was represented by the tipi outside which an Asian Andromache (Jennifer Lim) stood with a papoose (5.3). Hector ignored all the warnings of his prophetic sister Cassandra, his wife and Priam. Pandarus brought Cressida’s letter to Troilus, which he tore up and scattered.
The start of the battle was described by Thersites, and we soon saw a melee of cricket bats and lacrosse sticks (5.4). Hector challenged Thersites, who took off his wig to prove himself an unworthy opponent.
The Greeks carried in the dead Patroclus who was still holding his fan (5.5). The doubling of this character with Nestor then obliged the actor to switch into that character to bemoan Patroclus’ death. This deliberately played with the concept of identity echoing the sentiment expressed previously by Troilus about Cressida: this was and was not Nestor.
Patroclus’ blood was collected in a helmet into which Achilles and Ajax dipped their hands before smearing the blood on their faces swearing revenge.
The battle continued with the combat between Hector and Achilles coming to a non-contact stand-off with Achilles vowing to fight him when refreshed (5.6).
The Myrmidons, dressed in white boiler suits and masks, were dispatched by Achilles to find Hector (5.7). The end of this brief scene was spoilt slightly during the Stratford run. Thersites rose from his wheelchair after declaring himself a bastard, stripped naked and pushed the chair offstage. This gratuitous nudity was incredible silly was quite rightly was dropped for the Riverside run.
Hector lay down a captured piece of Greek armour (5.8). The Myrmidons surrounded him and he slumped dead. His assailants carried him away in this fixed slouched position. This was changed at the Riverside so that he simply walked off after lying dead on the ground.
News of Hector’s death reached the rest of the Trojans (5.9). After this, Troilus declared that all was lost, but fought on. The final sour note was struck by Pandarus who bequeathed us his diseases (5.10).
Bold theatrical experiments are always welcome. This particular experiment worked well enough but was an acquired taste.
The distinct and puzzling performance style of The Wooster Group did not come at the expense of clarity. The text was perfectly comprehensible and at no point was the action of their sequences incomprehensible.
Actors take direction. What appears to be spontaneous movement is rehearsed and subject to minute control by a director.
The fact that the Trojans mimicked the movements of actors in projected film sequences merely made clearer this hidden aspect of the process. The guts of the production were displayed on the outside.
Paradoxically, the more intriguing aspects of the production was so disconcerting that they almost cancelled themselves out, leaving the audience to focus more specifically on the text, which was the only feature of some sequences that could be readily processed.
This was and was not Troilus and Cressida.
Only 76 walk outs during last night's first preview of our RSC/Wooster Group Troilus and Cressida. Are we being radical enough?—
Mark Ravenhill (@markravenhill) August 04, 2012
85 walkouts during tonight's troilus and Cressida. Cast called back to the stage for more applause by 300 remaining.—
Mark Ravenhill (@markravenhill) August 04, 2012
Superlatives! MT: @LearnedNinjaEel Saw the most offensive theatre performance. Troilus & Cressida painfully amateur & shockingly offensive—
(@TheWoosterGroup) August 13, 2012
King John, Swan Stratford, 8 June 2012
The stage was covered with a greyish patterned carpet, reminiscent of a chain hotel, decorated with ugly potted plants. A wide set of steps led up to a back wall consisting of party balloons held behind a net.
Pippa Nixon’s character was an amalgam of Philip the Bastard and Hubert. In the programme she was simply called The Bastard, but given that her own name Pippa is a short form of Philippa, the female form of Philip, this review will refer to her character as Pippa.
The performance began with Pippa in her multi-coloured leggings and blue hoodie trying to play Land of Hope and Glory on a banjo (1.1). She experimented to find the right notes and then got us to join in singing. She commented on how we were doing, pointing out the talent of a group of ladies in the stage left part of the ground floor.
The tune then played out over speakers as King John crowned himself at the top of the carpeted stairs.
Chatillon was an effete Frenchman in a pastel pink suit, who brought news of the French claim to the crown of England. The modern setting meant that the King’s rebuke was deliberately given contemporary resonances with British patriotism and xenophobia.
Siobhan Redmond was glorious as Eleanor and brought her habitual relish to the part.
Robert and Pippa entered so that the King could resolve their inheritance dispute. Robert looked bookish in complete contrast to the bright, relaxed Pippa. She impishly mocked his claim, repeatedly saying there was no reason for it “except to get the land”.
Pippa accompanied l. 98 “Your tale…” with a bawdy gesture. Robert tried to make a similar gesture in return when describing his mother’s indiscretion but could only do so half-heartedly, again emphasising the difference in their characters, Pippa being the lustier.
Eleanor took a liking to Pippa and saw a resemblance in attitude between her and Richard the Lionheart. Pippa decided to forego her inheritance to follow Eleanor who validated Pippa’s warrior woman status by declaring herself “I am a soldier…” In essence, one female warrior invited another to follow her. King John knighted Pippa using a fountain pen.
Pippa’s soliloquy on posh, upmarket society was funny as she mocked the accents and pretensions of those among whom she was now moving.
Lady Faulconbridge’s motorbike could be heard offstage before she entered in her leathers.
Lewis, with leisurewear sunglasses on his head like a playboy, spoke to the boy Arthur borrowing some of the King Philip’s lines to explain the situation regarding the crown in patronising fashion with explanatory noises (2.1). Austria knelt before Arthur who forgave him for killing Richard the Lionheart.
King Philip made a grand entrance loudly proclaiming the preparations for war. Chatillon entered in the same pastel pink outfit with his suitcase to bring news of the impending English invasion.
King John and his party entered above. He showed a great deal of closeness with his mother Eleanor. When she set upon Constance he adlibbed “C’mon Mum”. Pippa was still in her leggings but now wore them with a low-cut top under a black jacket.
King Philip set out the claim that would make Arthur king of England. King John took off his crown, only to replace it again before he patronisingly offered Arthur a Kinder Egg saying “I’ll give thee more than e’er the coward hand of France can win”. This was picked up in Constance’s rebuke to Eleanor’s “grandam” comment saying that he would get in return “a plum, a cherry and a fig”.
In response, Arthur was very realistic in acting fed up at being the centre of so much fuss.
Eleanor produced a piece of paper that demonstrated Arthur could not be heir to the throne and Constance screwed it up.
Mics were brought on stage for the siege of Angiers to enable kings to address its people. Lots of townsmen stood in the galleries and spoke in pairs. King John pointed to the crown to underline his claim. Pippa joined in at l.350 to say “now doth Death line his dead chaps with steel”. She had fun pointing out that the townspeople were standing “As in a theatre, whence they gape and point at your industrious scenes and acts of death.” She suggested that the two kings join together to attack the city.
The town chorus also spoke the words of Hubert (his other lines transferred to Pippa) suggesting the marriage between Lewis and Blanche, who stood on the steps. Lewis was not sure as his reply to “can you love this lady” was “Nay…” which initially sounded negative until followed up with the rest.
Pippa’s aside about “vile lout” Lewis fitted well with her impish female trickster characterisation.
Blanche’s first words were faltering and not understood by the others until clarified. She was bit of a blonde bimbo.
The wedding party lined up for a photo on the step. Pippa stood with a camera as they froze. Underlining her significance as a central character, she was able to freeze time and soliloquise about the “Mad world” that Commodity was able to turn away from a good war.
The wedding then took place. The mics were again used so that King John could sing I Say a Little Prayer in duet with Philip. The two kings chest bumped each other as Lewis and Blanche recreated a scene from the film Dirty Dancing to the sound of Time of My Life. King Philip had a great time and ended up taking his shirt off to reveal his vest.
Silent messengers were rebuked by distraught Constance (2.2). They wore party hats as they had just come from the wedding party to tell her of the arrangement that would disinherit Arthur.
The wedding party crashed down the stairs but stopped before reaching the ground where Constance sat and bewailed her misfortune (3.1). King Philip talked of pawning her his majesty while still in his vest.
The arrival of the female Pandulph (a Mary Portas figure) was announced with “Here comes the holy legate of the pope”. This was repeated so that everyone bowed and moved to the sides to make way for her. She was cast as party pooper. Her comment about the kings being the “anointed deputies of heaven” was sarcastic given their dishevelment, party hats and vests.
King John’s response to her question was standard piece of brash anticlericalism. Pandulph held up her ring to excommunicate King John. King Philip, realising he was being asked to start a war with a relative by marriage, pleaded for peace.
The cool and aloof Pandulph’s description of the church’s curse as “a mother’s curse” was significant, as it was delivered by a female character.
In general, this production’s use of female characters for male ones enabled it to revel in these ambiguities.
In contrast to her initial faltering speech, Blanche was very eloquent in her dilemma. She faced choosing between the two factions lined up either side of the stage, saying “Which is the side that I must go withal?”
Pippa entered down the steps with a Sainsbury’s bag from which she retrieved Austria’s severed head (3.2). Eleanor was with the captured Arthur. Hubert’s lines were given to Pippa. This meant that King John’s declaration of devoted friendship (with its mention of love) began to look like sexual attraction. He gave her a necklace as a love token. Having a woman on the receiving end of these very words gave them a different significance, in effect a sideways comment on the original text’s male intimacy. King John instructed Pippa to kill Arthur.
Constance’s grief at the loss of Arthur was excellent and passionate (3.3). But if this production was all about Pippa, then was Constance’s grief sidelined and made less significant?
Constance pulled down her hair as indicated in the text’s implied stage directions and was told by King Philip to put it up again. Her description of Arthur as “my food, my all the world” was incredibly moving.
Pandulph gave Lewis a lesson in political tactics, saying that King John would kill Arthur and thereby pave way for his own claim to the throne.
Pippa got ready with the executioner to put out Arthur’s eyes (4.1). Her line “His words do take possession of my bosom” originally spoken by Hubert, was very significant. Spoken by a female character, whose bosom was very much in evidence in her low-cut top, constantly reinforcing her femininity, these lines made her seem very female in her maternal compassion for a troubled child.
The prospect of the boy being injured was very shocking. The executioner was called and Arthur offered no resistance when being placed on the block. But the iron had gone cold.
This sequence came just after Constance’s powerful speech about her maternal care for Arthur and so could not help but be influenced by it. Pippa relented and this act of mercy looked right and in character. At this point the interval came.
The second half (4.2) began with Pippa singing “Civilian” by Wye Oak. King John recrowned himself at the top of the steps, at which point confetti snowed down from the flies, poppers popped and the dozens of latex balloons broke free and cascaded down the steps onto the stage. A neon sign “for god and england” lit up at the back.
King John put the crown on twice, either to make a point about the definitiveness of the gesture, or to signify that he was donning it for the second time.
The nobles demanded Arthur’s freedom. Pippa entered and whispered to John the lie that she had killed him. Pembroke’s line very cutting “Indeed we heard how near his death he was before the child himself felt he was sick”. King John heard of the deaths of Eleanor and Constance.
The sequence involving Peter the Prophet was cut, but Pippa did talk (as Hubert) about the “five moons” that had been seen by people foretelling bad things because of the death of Arthur.
King John argued with Pippa claiming that the murder was her idea and essentially blaming her for the problems he was experiencing. He groped and climbed on top of her asserting his dominance and also his anger. This demonstrated that their relationship was sexualised, and his “you made me do it” stance looked like classic misogyny. He claimed: “Hadst not thou been by… this murder had not come into my mind”.
Pippa was relieved to be able to tell King John that Arthur was in fact alive. She described her hand as “yet a maiden and an innocent hand”. This was another expression of male weakness conveyed in female terms that became ironic when spoken by a woman.
Arthur walked the wall of the castle, represented by the top of the steps and gradually made his way down to the bottom of the steps stage left (4.3). Another Arthur appeared at the stage right top of the steps and turned his back to the audience. When that Arthur jumped and fell down the back of the steps, the Arthur at the front collapsed a short distance onto the stage where he lay until discovered by the nobles.
Pippa entered on Hubert’s cue speaking his lines, drawing a gun in response to being threatened with a knife, saying ironically “I think my sword’s as sharp as yours”. But then she lamented Arthur’s death using Philip’s lines, such as “It is a damned and a bloody work”.
Obviously the argument between Philip and Hubert was cut. In the text, Philip comments on how easily Hubert picked Arthur up. Pippa was given a modified version of this so that she could comment on how easily she could carry him, saying “How easy do I take all England up”, continuing that speech to the end of the scene.
King John faced upstage and kneeled before Pandulph (5.1). He held his hands together in prayer with the crown slotted over the top of them. He offered it to Pandulph who took the crown and placed it on the king’s head to mark his return to the fold of the faithful.
Pippa entered with news about the Dauphin’s advances and how the nobles had turned against him when they discovered Arthur dead. King John was able to complain to Pippa directly that she had assured him Arthur was alive, rather than complain to Philip about the assurances of the absent Hubert.
When Pippa began to bolster the king saying “But wherefore do you droop?”, Why look you sad?” exhorting him to “glister like the god of war”, she resembled Lady Macbeth encouraging her husband. If she had said “Infirm of purpose” the line would have fitted exactly.
This underscored again how easily male-to-male dialogue could be recast as the words of wife to husband.
Lewis and Salisbury were getting ready for battle, with Salisbury saying how difficult he found it to take arms against his own people (5.2). Blanche was still milling around in her wedding dress under a jacket.
Pandulph appeared on the stage left walkway to declare peace. She demanded that the war preparations be wound up by symbolically wafted them away with a sweep of her wrist. Lewis was still keen on war with England.
Pippa entered at the top of the steps and delivered a big, boastful speech from there about the power and might of King John. Lewis said that she could “outscold us”: the use of a term related to scolding, usually applied to women, was telling when applied to Pippa.
The final scene in the production (5.3-5.6) saw King John looking ill. Messengers appeared in the galleries swapping news. It began with Pippa using one of Hubert’s lines and pointing her gun from the gallery saying: “Who’s there? Speak, ho! Speak quickly, or I shoot” then continuing as Philip saying “Show me the very wound of this ill news: I am no woman, I’ll not swoon at it.” Having Pippa state that she was not a woman produced yet another flash of recognition that the production was again playing with its gender categories.
Others around the galleries responded using Hubert’s words to bring the news of King John’s poisoning. We saw the injured Melun in one of the galleries near the stage.
Down on the stage King John crumpled and started dancing to “Beggin’” by Frankie Valli with its line “Just can’t make it all alone”. The neon sign now had letters missing from it, another indication of decay.
Constance and Arthur entered, mocked King John and then exited after which the king howled in pain. His son Prince Henry asked “How fare’s your majesty?” His reply paused after its first word “Poisoned…” the bareness of which elicited a laugh from the audience.
He was supported by the Prince, but it was Pippa who became his chief comforter. She howled and sat hugging him as he died. Her “Art thou gone so?” merged into her final speech “O, let us pay… rest but true!”
The sense that we were watching the end of a love affair undercut the blood and guts patriotism of the play’s final sentiment about England fearing nothing if it remained true to itself, whatever that is supposed to mean.
Taking the characters of Philip and Hubert and merging them into a new female character had the effect of recasting the play as a love story with some scenes echoing the dialogue between the Macbeths. This was quite a neat solution to the problem of finding a new angle on quite a dry, early Shakespeare history play.
Pippa was the first character to appear, she was the only one who had the ability to stop time and address us in soliloquy. It was her passion over the dead king that closed the play.
But this came at a price. If Pippa was the new centre of the play then that tended to downgrade the significance of the other characters particularly Constance.
The love story was entertaining and the way the production joked with its own gender references was amusing. But this undermined any commentary the play might have contained on the contemporary relevance of its portrayal of England’s relationship with the rest of the world, which seemed to be one of its ambitions given the modern dress staging.
Richard III, Swan Theatre Stratford, 20 April 2012
It was not just his puckish quiff of hair, Irish accent and winning smile that made Jonjo O’Neill’s Richard III immensely likeable during his rise to power. There was also his attempt to live in an eternal present where the past did not matter.
A simple mistake, like killing someone’s relative, could be quickly recompensed by offering to marry them. He could murder a wife once she was surplus to requirements and then seek to procure another by similar intrigue.
This Richard’s happy but murderous ambition and strangely optimistic outlook were positive and forward-looking in comparison with the grimness of his dour relatives, themselves mostly murderers, who were in thrall to the past and their grievances.
The performance opened on a brief and uncharacteristic reversal of the underlying situation, with the king and others returning from battle to be greeted by their loving wives and children. This was something from which the unmarried, childless Richard was excluded. He smiled painfully, setting the tone for the self-loathing of his opening soliloquy.
But Richard was not downcast by his plight. His first word “Now” and its subsequent repetitions, underlined his preoccupation with the present and his schemes to alter the future to his liking.
The impish force of his personality gave the impression that England under this Richard would be a bloody mess, but at least it would not be dull.
The grey metal folding doors at back of the set and a floor of the same colour, captured the blandness of the court and its insecure melancholy into which Richard erupted.
His deformities were understated so that no hint of physical grotesqueness was conveyed by his slight limp and insignificant hunch. And he was not a figure of darkness upsetting a righteous and orderly establishment.
King Edward (Mark Jax) sat on his throne and received a bouquet of flowers from Richard, which he proceeded to give quite openly to Mistress Shore (Susie Trayling), who stood to his immediate left, in full view of Queen Elizabeth (Siobhan Redmond) positioned to his right.
The Duchess of York (Sandra Duncan) was prim and proper with a fixed expression as if chewing on the proverbial wasp. The thin and brittle Lady Anne (Pippa Nixon) suffered from a feverishness of mind which caused her first to submit to Richard’s wooing and subsequently to regret her weakness.
Even Richard’s most willing assistant, Buckingham (Brian Ferguson), was a besuited Scot with a constrained, stiff manner, making their alliance an unlikely pairing.
The only character that seemed to rise above all this was Margaret (Paola Dionisotti). After an unconvincing first appearance dramatically spotlit and framed in an archway, she gradually revealed herself to be a kind of ninja figure.
With her combat boots, black clothes, a sleeveless top revealing her toned arms, and with a physical litheness that allowed her to squat on the ground and then stretch up again, she exuded toughness and confidence. No wonder, then, that Queen Elizabeth began to look up to her.
Margaret stamped her foot on the ground as she issued each of her curses on Richard, a gesture which he repeated when turning the curses back on her by completing her “thou detested-“ with “Margaret”.
Richard continued to be a source of fun. There were laughs in the scene where he was presented as a holy man, in an attempt to trick the mayor of London in supporting him, based on the transparent fiction of the image being projected.
It was also difficult not to smile when Richard rejected Anne’s hand and insisted that Buckingham escort him up the steps to his high throne, after which he turned to face the audience and grinned in self-satisfaction at his accomplishment.
But sour notes had already begun to tarnish the jollity.
Rivers and Grey were executed by having ropes looped around their necks which were then pulled tight with a man tugging on each end.
The rough play between Richard and the young Duke of York culminated with the boy being held in an arm lock as Richard pretended to throttle him. But Buckingham’s wagging finger advised Richard to calm down, as he was clearly relishing the game to the point of risking real harm.
The actual murder of Edward’s children could not secure his position, and with his followers falling away and battle with Richmond (Iain Batchelor) impending, Richard’s dream sequence was immensely harrowing.
The speeches by the ghosts were rearranged so that they all appeared and cursed Richard first, mobbing and attacking him. Then they gathered to praise and support Richmond, crowning him and bearing him aloft, before marching right over the prone Richard, who wailed in fear.
The past was coming back to haunt Richard in many ways. When the day of battle arrived, the king and his forces formed a line facing the audience and advanced stamping their feet rhythmically in way directly reminiscent of Margaret’s stamping curses.
During the battle Prince Edward suddenly appeared and ran between Richmond and Richard. This intervention did not secure Richmond with any advantage at first, but after a brief battle, the challenger killed Richard by strangling him on the ground in an arm lock identical to that previously used against the young Duke.
After trying to live in an eternal present, Richard was eventually undone by those who could not forget.
Measure For Measure, Swan Theatre Stratford, 3 December 2011
The distinctive set dressing of this production offered some clues as to what was in store. The stage floor was black with a partly cobbled surface. A translucent strip curtain hung at the back. Above the stage a light fitting composed of lengths of brass chain draped over a bulb occasionally descended from the flies. Small brass fixtures were placed at regular intervals down the sides of the thrust from which lengths of chain hung down the side of the stage.
In the final few minutes before the house lights went down, pumping music issued from the gallery above the stage, gathering in coherence until the Duke emerged.
Dressed quite flamboyantly, he clicked his fingers to turn on two lights in the recesses at the side of the stage. The “lights” were women posing with S&M styled lamp shades over their heads and they appeared each time the scene was set in the Duke’s office. He lowered his hands and the house lights dimmed at his command.
The Duke looked towards the stage right walkway and summoned Escalus with a wave of his palm, but to his consternation and the audience’s amusement, Escalus appeared on the opposite walkway instead.
The Duke is quite often a subsidiary character to the Isabella/Angelo couple, lurking in the background and merely orchestrating events, rather than standing at their centre.
But the first few moments of this production set a different tone, making the Duke the main character around which the others revolved.
The overtly sensuous decor of the Duke’s palace was rather shocking, because it was more reminiscent of the corruption of the outside world that the new crackdown on vice was meant to eradicate.
The design choices here could have symbolised the corruption and decadence of the state itself. Further hints of this were to appear later.
Angelo (Jamie Ballard) was summoned. He wore a black outfit with a roll neck pullover and a small leather corset around the waist. This looked like another example of decadent corruption infecting the Duke’s court. Its slightly kinky appearance was at odds with Angelo’s outward coldness. On the other hand, it could have been an outward sign that he was inwardly decadent. Or yet again, it could have symbolised the constraint of his professed self-discipline.
The Duke produced Angelo’s commission from out of nowhere using magic sleight of hand. This attention-seeking behaviour again underlined the Duke’s position as the central character in the play.
Before he departed, the Duke made a great point of stressing his dislike of public acclaim, stating “I do not relish well their loud applause and Aves vehement”. However, the audience laughed at this line because his fur-trimmed coat, magic tricks and general demeanour showed him to be precisely the kind of person who would delight in Aves of any kind.
The following scene (1.2) began with general debauchery behind the translucent curtain accompanied by thumping music. Mistress Overdone and her girls spanked customers, who then emerged in front of the curtain to discuss the current situation in Vienna.
Lucio began to speak, but paused to remove his nipple clamps before continuing. Mistress Overdone told the others about Claudio’s impending execution. After they went off to investigate, Overdone was joined by Pompey who was a stocky, shifty figure with a cigarette permanently stored behind his ear.
The audience reacted instantly to Pompey’s one liners, particularly his animated “Groping for trouts, in a peculiar river”.
The word “houses” was replaced by “brothels” to make clearer sense of Pompey’s news about the demolition of the bordellos. Overdone paused so that her version of the phrase became “houses… of resort”, which made the odd collocation into an almost accidental (possibly euphemistic) comic creation.
Claudio and the pregnant Juliet were brought in by the Provost. Claudio’s explanation of his situation to Lucio saw Mark Quartley provide a bravura display of acting under constraint. Manacled hand and foot, he still managed to use his hands to express his reaction to his impending execution.
The manacles were also faintly reminiscent of the bondage equipment seen in the brothel sequence that opened the scene. This further underscored the idea running through the production that authority was itself corrupt: the constraints of lawful imprisonment were themselves fetishised.
Singing monks brought in a bier at the start of 1.3 and placed it centre stage. One friar remained to accompany it. The cover flew off revealing the Duke underneath, who emerged with a knowing wink to the audience, mouthing “It’s me!” This re-established the Duke as the focus of our attention.
The Duke relished his lengthy explanation of why he had pretended to be travelling abroad. This performance by the Duke meant that his line “Now, pious Sir, you will demand of me, why I do this” caused audience amusement, as the friar appeared to be slightly bored by the Duke’s self-obsession. His professed disdain for idle pleasures seemed comical as he was still wearing his flamboyant clothes.
A group of nuns entered singing and carried away the bier. One of the nuns stayed behind with the novice Isabella (1.4).
Jodie McNee’s interesting face and interesting voice gave her a distinct presence. However, the deliberate decision to make the Duke the central character meant that she tended to be eclipsed by him. Nevertheless, she did an excellent job of portraying the tension between Isabella’s anger and her desire to passively withdraw from the affairs of the world.
Lucio appeared on the stage right balcony before rushing in at ground level. He spoke to the nun, who kept her vow by refusing to address him. Isabella introduced herself to Lucio and he brought her the bad news about her condemned brother, which she was reluctant to believe.
Lucio found himself resorting to a variety of euphemisms to describe how Claudio had got Juliet pregnant. He plumped for an agricultural metaphor with references to “blossoming” and “foison” culminating in him delving around with his hands, speaking of Claudio’s “full tilth and husbandry”.
Once informed of Claudio’s situation, Isabella’s furrowed brow set off to put things right.
Angelo and Escalus debated the unpermissive new order at the start of act two. He stated plainly that he would willingly submit to the strictures of the law if so required. He paused to order Claudio’s execution before the serious tone of the scene was completely undercut by one of the funniest sequences in the play, which this production picked up and ran with in glorious fashion.
Beginning with Elbow’s comic allusion to his own name, through his malapropisms (benefactors, detest etc.) to the delightfully irreverent anecdote about Elbow’s wife related by the tag team of Pompey and Froth, this sequence provided a welcome interlude.
Pompey and Froth put on a totally unconvincing and hysterically funny act for the inquisitors. Pompey mentioned that Froth’s father had died, upon which the forlorn Froth began ham act his weeping. When Escalus was asked to judge the honesty of Froth’s face, the man exaggeratedly presented himself as harmless and innocent.
Elbow’s frustration boiled over into more malapropisms, at which point Escalus despaired of the whole process and advised Elbow simply to keep an eye on the notorious benefactors before dismissing them with a warning not to appear before him again.
Scene 2.2 began with Angelo rejecting the Provost’s appeal for clemency just before Isabella entered to appeal for the same, accompanied by Lucio.
Angelo sat, then stood, as Isabella became more animated. She shouted at the “tyrant”, but hers was always a very feminine, restrained anger. Angelo looked on without any real trace of interest. Dispassionate and featureless, he bore no trace of any inner turmoil that might have foreshadowed his subsequent outburst of passion.
The turning point in the long exchange, given comic note by Lucio’s words of encouragement, came when Isabella put her palm on Angelo’s chest saying “Go to your bosom”, encouraging him to enquire if it contained any fault similar to Claudio’s. This immediately prompted Angelo’s aside about his sense “breeding” at her words.
For some reason Isabella’s subsequent line containing a hidden bawdy reference to “…fond sickles of the tested gold, or stones…” really stood out.
Angelo requested Isabella visit him again with snappy short sentences that did not disguise his embarrassment. But his soliloquy describing the dilemma caused by his feelings for Isabella was comparatively matter-of-fact.
Angelo was underplayed. Rather than an accident of Ballard’s acting, this could have been a deliberate directorial choice flowing from the clear decision to make the Duke the central character. It was telling that this speech of Angelo’s was followed by more extravagant behaviour by the now disguised Duke.
The Duke entered in a monk’s habit practising his “benedicite” (2.3). He removed his hood and beamed at the audience letting us in on the secret of his disguise, which we had mostly worked out for ourselves already. He recognised the Provost and greeted him by his title, but then immediately cringed when he realised that a visiting friar would not have known him.
The Duke met with Juliet and was uncharacteristically stern with her before announcing that he was going to find Claudio to speak with him as well. He parted with a properly rehearsed and convincing “benedicite”.
Angelo prepared to meet Isabella for a second time (2.4). Angelo seemed emotionless in the face of Isabella’s characteristic earnestness. He was more concerned that she might be feigning innocence in not understanding him. If Angelo was a troubled man, then the precise nature and origins of his troubles remained obscure and undeveloped by Ballard’s characterisation.
As Angelo’s true intention became clearer, Isabella lost nothing of her anger nor her forensic intellect. Her “Ignomy in ransom and free pardon are of two houses” showed her to be clear in her insights, despite the stress of the situation.
Isabella’s anger erupted as she told Angelo that she would denounce him. But Angelo’s cool rebuff that no one would believe her was not the calculated response of a devious mastermind.
Claudio was brought up from the cells and chained to one of the small posts at the side of the stage so that the Duke could talk to him disguised as a friar (3.1). Claudio’s resigned simplicity carried over into his similar conversation with his sister Isabella when she visited him, with the Duke listening in.
But the seemingly modest and virtuous attitude that Claudio initially displayed, accepting his death and his sister’s preservation of her virginity soon slipped into him pleading with her to save his life. Isabella launched into a fierce tirade against her brother, at which point the Duke stepped forward to calm them by explaining to Claudio that Angelo had only wanted to test Isabella, and telling Isabella about Mariana and his plan to bring good from bad.
After firing off his list of instructions to Isabella, the Duke retired making a loud exhalation of breath, indicating his relief at narrowly averting calamity.
The brothel reappeared behind the curtain (3.2) and more whipping and kinkiness took place. But this time the constables of the watch turned up and arrested the men.
Elbow brought Pompey forward and the Duke castigated the miscreant. Pompey’s face lit up when he saw Lucio, thinking he would bail him, but Lucio only mocked Pompey. He pulled down on Pompey’s neck brace, which also had S&M touches, joking that his “mettle is the more”.
This reminder of the dog collar nature of Pompey’s restraint caused him to rub himself against Lucio’s leg like a dog. Lucio pushed him off saying “Go to kennel, Pompey, go.”
We were then treated to the delicious comedy of Lucio telling the disguised Duke all about the Duke’s peccadilloes, made funnier by the Duke almost let his guard slip at one point. The audience lapped up the braggart’s assumed knowledge of the man he was in fact addressing, and the Duke’s wonderfully restrained defence of himself. The phrase “his use was to put a ducat in her clack-dish” was laden with innuendo.
Lucio’s departure was soon followed by the arrival of Escalus, the Provost with Mistress Overdone under arrest. She tried to assuage Escalaus’ ire by kneeling in front of him and unbuttoning his trousers.
Overdone thought that Lucio had snitched on her, so in return she told Escalus about his dalliance with Kate Keep-down. The Provost keenly took note of the details to pass on to the Duke.
Escalus called on the Provost to send a priest to Claudio to prepare him for death. The Provost pointed at the disguised Duke as a suitable man for the job. Realising that Escalus would most likely recognise his face, the Duke made a great point of turning away from Escalus when speaking to him, even though this sometimes produced a comical result.
Escalus asked him what news there was in the wider world. The Duke’s initial monosyllabic “None” was quickly corrected when he realised that it was an inadequate response, causing him to launch into a series of generalities.
Escalus and the Provost left the Duke alone. He took off his hood and addressed his closing doggerel verse in the scene to the audience. He pointed at us, making us like the angels “on the outward side”. After this the interval came.
A woman held a water jug above her head and slowly poured the contents into a bowl in the form of a living statue. A friar knelt and played the guitar as Mariana pitched gently back and forth on a swing, singing a sad song (4.1).
The Duke was soon joined by Isabella, who began her account of Angelo’s instructions for their assignation. She produced the two keys he had given her using the same sleight of hand technique used by the Duke. This made the audience laugh as it showed a lighter side to Isabella’s character that we had not seen previously, and also hinted that she had come under the Duke’s influence to such an extent that she was now imitating his quirks.
Prompted by this comedy, the audience laughed at Isabella’s mention that Angelo had explained the route to his house twice. An audience fresh back after an interval is often game for a laugh.
Isabella and Mariana withdrew momentarily to discuss the plan, while the Duke bewailed the fate of greatness, to have “Millions of false eyes” gazing at it, pointing accusingly but affectionately again at the audience.
The Provost opened the grille in the floor to access the prison (4.2) and brought out Pompey to recruit him as a trainee executioner. Abhorson wore a vest that exposed the crude tally marks on his upper arm indicating his dozen or so victims. He was also cross-eyed, which was perhaps a clue as to why he required an assistant.
Abhorson stared disdainfully at Pompey and intoned sonorously that his profession would be discredited by having a bawd among its ranks. His obscure explanation for why his occupation was a “mystery” was spoken slowly and deliberately as if containing clarity and sense.
Claudio was brought out, but Barnadine had refused to appear. The Duke arrived and told the Provost to expect a message regarding Claudio’s pardon. Elbow was the Messenger who brought Angelo’s renewed instructions to proceed with Claudio’s execution.
The Duke instructed the Provost to have Barnadine executed in Claudio’s place, producing a letter with his own ducal seal on it as authority.
Pompey emerged grinning from the trap door (4.3), with an extra-textual “Hello” before telling us how many of his former clients he had found in the prison. He went around pointing at members of the audience, naming them as the various offenders and itemising their offences.
This caused great amusement, particularly when he pointed at a bald man, naming him as “young Drop-heir”, and at a middle-aged woman calling her “wild Half-can”. He also commented (outside the text) about the 400 hundred or so others, meaning the rest of us in the audience.
Abhorson and Pompey called on Barnadine, who popped his head up through a hatch to disdainfully announce that he was sleepy. When he emerged fully, Barnadine was bare-chested with long hair and displayed a faintly roguish, aristocratic bearing that went hand in hand with the disdainful sense of entitlement behind his disregard of the prison regime.
Barnadine sat on the executioner’s block as the cross-eyed Abhorson raised the large axe ready to strike. Abhorson wavered as he tried to keep the axe in the air, gesturing to Pompey to retrieve the warrant for Barnadine’s execution from his belt. Barnadine rose just before Abhorson let the axe fall onto the block with a thud.
With Barnadine unsuited to execution, the Duke gleefully received the news about the untimely death of Ragozine. The audience laughed at his description of this as “an accident that heaven provides”.
The Duke produced the letters he was to write to Angelo by magic sleight of hand before the Provost returned with Ragozine’s head in bag.
Isabella reacted badly to the Duke’s pretence that Claudio had been executed. She clenched her fists and spat out her four-fold invective, which concluded with her cursing Angelo. Lucio arrived to comfort her and hugged her.
The Duke and Lucio clashed with Lucio once more divulging that he had got a woman pregnant. Insisting that he accompany the friar, Lucio said he would “stick” and each time the Duke took a tentative step backwards, Lucio repeated the word “stick” to indicate that he had latched on.
Angelo and Escalus discussed the Duke’s most recent letter to them arranging a meeting at the city gate (4.4). Angelo’s thoughtful soliloquy, in which he succeeded in convincing himself that Isabella would not speak out against him, was notable for the way the unusual words “unshapes” and “unpregnant” stood out.
The brief scene between the Duke, Friar Peter and Varrius (4.5) was followed swiftly by Isabella and Mariana appearing in the galleries either side of the stage discussing which of them should accuse Angelo (4.6). When Friar Peter returned, the two women appeared on the main stage and he told Isabella to take up her position.
The strip curtain was partly bundled together at the ends and lifted up to make way for the Duke. He made a stately entrance through the wide gap in the curtain in his elegant uniform of office accompanied by his men (5.1). The emblem of the Austrian eagle appeared high at the back.
After greeting Escalus and Angelo (and possibly producing a coin from behind someone’s ear), the Duke proceeded onward and Isabella threw herself forward to demand justice. Initially dismissive, the Duke was persuaded to listen and Isabella continued, buoyed up by Lucio’s interventions, which the Duke insisted on silencing. She spat out the word “concupiscible”. The Duke refused to believe her and she was led away to prison.
All this time Angelo looked on with an air of detachment, which was in tune with his phlegmatic character. He managed to crack a smile when Friar Peter informed the Duke that “Friar Lodowick” had sent message that Isabella’s accusations against Angelo were going to be disproved.
Mariana appeared with a black blindfold over her eyes with a crucifix attached to the front. Her riddling statements soon revealed that Angelo was her husband. She unmasked and Angelo admitted having once being betrothed to her. But the Duke continued to act as if he supported him and briefly disappeared. Escalus said he would do his job “thoroughly” which is slight emendation of the text’s “throughly”.
The Duke returned disguised as the friar, while Escalus interrogated Isabella. The Duke once again turned away from Escalus to avoid detection, but soon found himself being accused by Escalus and insulted by Lucio, who held his lapels like a lawyer to accuse the friar of insulting the Duke.
Lucio grabbed hold of the friar and put him across his knee and spanked him on the bottom, culminating in his hood coming off and the Duke appearing in full view. Lucio immediately panicked and got down on his knees begging for forgiveness.
Angelo accepted his guilt, and the Duke arranged for him to marry Mariana. He warmly greeted Isabella with the subterfuge now uncovered. But the returning Angelo was condemned to death despite Mariana’s and Isabella’s pleas.
The Duke asked the Provost to bring in Barnadine, but he also brought in the hooded Claudio closely followed by Juliet and her now newborn baby.
The unhooding of Claudio produced general relief in Isabella and Angelo. It remained only for Kate Keep-down to be ordered to marry Lucio for the loose ends to be all tied-up.
In keeping with the jolly tone of the production, the Duke’s offer of marriage to Isabella was warmly (yet for textual reasons wordlessly) accepted.
The performance ended with a Globe-style jig and great audience applause.
The production was thoroughly enjoyable, despite prizing visual style over dramatic substance.
The overshadowing of Angelo by the Duke meant that the comic aspects of the play were accentuated at the expense of its darker side.
In particular, we were offered no real psychological insights into the character of Angelo, who is usually the gripping and tortured centre of the drama.
Stratford, 8/9 July 2011
Some additional insights gained from a second look at three of the RSC’s current productions.
The Merchant of Venice
The stunning opening Elvis number was great fun, its impact undiminished on a repeat view.
But at the other end of the production, the puzzling finale gained in clarity a second time around.
A conscious search for the meaning of Portia’s mad dance focused attention on a brief series of gestures that unlocked the mystery of the closing sequence.
Portia sat between the Antonio and Bassanio and glanced down as their hands clasped across her lap. She wrinkled her nose in disgust as she realised the true nature of their relationship.
The fact that it took two views to see this properly points to a problem with the production. Other audience members have found the ending of this Merchant confusing. This appears to have been a widespread problem.
The screenplay origins of the production could be to blame. Rupert Goold originally intended to make a film version of the Merchant set in Las Vegas, but ended up presenting this intriguing take on the story in the theatre.
The detail of the denouement could have been easily portrayed on film through close-up. But things work differently on stage and adapting this idea for the theatre proved problematic. On a thrust, with many looking sideways on, the crucial moment would have been difficult to see from all parts of the auditorium.
The need for significant staging elements to be immediately obvious and clearly visible throughout the theatre is something that should be considered by future RST productions.
Gregory Doran’s re-imagining of the Shakespeare/Fletcher “lost” play was well worth seeing again.
Regardless of the debate surrounding the play’s provenance, it worked extremely well in the theatre.
The Saturday 9 July matinee was recorded for V&A theatre archive. Three cameras occupied the back of the centre stalls to capture the action.
I managed to resist the temptation to send Greg Doran a postcard purporting to come from Lewis Theobald in reply to Greg’s open letter to the dramatist at the end of the published text of this production.
No additional clarity resulted from another exposure to this production’s quirky decision to have Ross as a priestly choric figure, prompting Malcolm’s opening and closing speeches, commenting on events, with all this amid what looked like a Reformation setting.
Untroubled by futile attempts at working out the rationale behind the cutting and rearrangement of the text to accommodate the revamped Ross, it was possible to appreciate the pressure and tension in the staging. This made Jonathan Slinger’s Macbeth more prominent.
There were gasps from the audience when Macduff’s children were murdered, which demonstrated the power of the story and its ability to affect profoundly first-time viewers of the play.
The shock of seeing the child witches hanging in mid-air lost no force the second time around. This simple yet most arresting image had a high degree of traction.
For some reason, possibly the result of ruminating on this production’s avenging ghost army, Macduff’s line about his wife and children’s ghosts haunting him stood out particularly. And of course at this point his family were actually trailing behind him, making his conjecture literally true.
London transfers of productions designed specifically for the new RST will not be able to replicate fully the precise stagings of the originals. Consequently it makes more sense to get a second glimpse of these productions in Stratford instead of waiting for a London performance that compromises on the directorial vision.
A deeper question is why two of the current productions require second views to appreciate them fully. A repeat look should be a luxury and not a necessity.
The search for innovation, for “original” stagings of classic plays, risks going beyond the audience’s capacity to register what has been done.
Cardenio, Swan Theatre Stratford, 14 May 2011
Greg Doran’s re-imagined production of Cardenio had the boldness to treat the play with the lack of reverence that is routinely dished out to the rest of the canon.
Instead of pickling the play in some imagined historical authenticity, he toyed with it and had the nerve to follow up original ideas offered by the process of re-imagining.
The result was a production that felt beautifully alive rather than carefully curated.
The play text was published by Nick Hern Books near the start of the run, enabling anyone interested to study at their leisure the precise changes and additions to Double Falsehood.
The key to Greg Doran’s thinking about reconstituting Cardenio is suggested on p.6 of the introduction to the play. He describes a 2007 visit to Spain where he met Antonio Álamo: a writer, director and “Cervantes nut”. Doran became aware of how much Theobald had removed from the original, its “psychological complexities and rigour”, leading him to the conclusion that “We would need to replace Cardenio’s ‘cojones’!”
Several drafts of the text were produced as the result of further discussions in Spain, as well as work with the cast of the RSC’s 2008 Hamlet. An RSC residency in Michigan where the text was workshopped by Hispanic-American actors provided further input.
Having identified the need to replace missing scenes, Doran decided to source lines from “only those Jacobean plays in which John Fletcher had drawn on Cervantes”.
There was also a considerable amount of rearrangement and rewriting of established scenes which made some radical alterations to the trajectory of the story, thereby altering the nature of some of its principal characters.
The set consisted of metal railings across the back of the Swan’s thrust stage. A central gateway with a large lock provided access to an area behind, used to represent the interior of some locations.
At the start of the performance a coffin with its lid at one side stood centre stage and two tall candle sticks behind provided solemn lighting. The sound of chanting came from behind the railings.
Fernando, played by Factory Theatre founder Alex Hassell, entered via the stage left walkway and gingerly approached the coffin. Checking the coast was clear, he climbed inside the coffin and lay down with his hands folded in front of his chest like a corpse. He quickly arose and snuck out when he heard the sound of jangling keys.
This prologue immediately brought Fernando to our attention and prefigured his abduction of Luscinda at the nunnery.
Pedro entered along with his father, the Duke, who was comparing different crucifix ornaments that were to be placed on what was now obviously his coffin. This provided a visual context for his remark that “Making my death familiar to my tongue digs not my grave one jot before the date.”
In the final speech of the scene (1.1) where the Duke asked Pedro to get Cardenio to spy on Fernando, the text was altered slightly so that the Duke said that he had already sent for Cardenio to come to court, rather than instructing Pedro to make arrangements. This fitted better with the fact that Don Camillo was about to receive a letter from the Duke himself and not his son.
Scene 1.2 was entirely rearranged. Don Camillo’s part, which opens this scene in Double Falsehood, was shunted off to 1.3. What remained was the latter part of the argument between Cardenio and Luscinda interrupted by the appearance of her father Don Bernardo. A specific location was provided for the action: the town of Almodovar in Andalucía.
Luscinda entered in a hurry, pursued a short distance behind by a pleading Cardenio. She walked off the stage right walkway and circled back to reappear on the stage right side entrance still with her lover in tow. Her frustration was caused by her unhappiness at Cardenio’s delay in telling his father of his marriage plans.
A Duenna was in attendance on Luscinda upstage left who kept a beady eye on this meeting between the sexes.
But Luscinda seemed quite capable of holding her own. She deployed a rolling-eyed sarcasm at Cardenio’s protestations. He tried to impress her with some florid praise including such stuff as “a face would make a frozen hermit leap from his cell”, but she just goggled at him and mouthed “What?!?”
A line spoken by Cardenio about his love in soliloquy in Theobald’s play was reworked and spoken directly to Luscinda. He began “I do not see that fervour in thee now…” and slowly sneaked closer to Luscinda, keeping one eye on the momentarily inattentive Duenna. But when he got to the words “While mine… burns with one constant heat” and was close enough to Luscinda for her to feel his constant heat, the Duenna looked up and with a few sharp taps of her stick sent Cardenio reeling back.
Don Bernardo stormed in and, after angrily complaining of Cardenio’s delays, chased him away. The poor lad tried to heap more praise on his “virtuous Luscinda” as he left but was shooed off. He came back for a final “Once more adieu…” before once again being chased off by Don Bernardo.
It was already possible at this early stage to see a stark contrast between the daring of Fernando displayed in the prologue and the timidity of Cardenio towards Luscinda, her Duenna and her father.
As Don Bernardo put his trust in “That power, which rules in these conjunction” he, Luscinda and the Duenna crossed themselves.
Don Camillo appeared with a letter at the start of 1.3, a sequence transposed from the start of Double Falsehood’s 1.2. He showed the Duke’s letter to Cardenio and informed him that he had been summoned to court. Some inserted lines determined that Duke Ricardo was “a grandee of Spain, his Dukedom is the best part of all Andalucía.”
Cardenio then sought out Luscinda to explain his sudden summons. She appeared behind the grill and was anxious that her lover’s departure would divert his interest away from her. Her sarcastic imitation of him saying “So please you, Father, I have chosen this mistress of my own” was quite cutting.
Cardenio reassured her that he would return “with swiftest wing of time”. The reference to Fernando plying Cardenio’s suit during his absence was cut, but deployed later.
The first proper appearance of Fernando began comically (1.4). He crept onto the stage closely followed by a band and splashed himself with some perfume. He strutted up and down as if practising his address to the balcony, represented by the upper stage left gallery.
In the mood
He ordered the band to strike up. A loud, brash sound was produced. He admonished them to “but touch the strings with a religious softness”. They tried again, but only slightly more temperate than before. Fernando then gave them a long, poetically framed instruction to make “sound to languish thro’ the night’s dull ear” etc. after which something approaching romantic mood music came forth.
Fernando stamped impetuously in his ardour for Dorotea who soon appeared at the balcony. Unlike in Double Falsehood, Fernando completed his line with “watches the starless night” himself, without the ending being supplied in sarcastic mode by his love.
Fernando became almost comically anxious in the face of Dorotea’s rebuttal and eventually climbed up to just below the balcony only to be told that what he sung was “most absonant and harsh”. She sniffed the air and detecting the strong whiff of something unpleasant, told Fernando that his pungent perfume “cheers not my sense”.
She went back inside leaving her lover to tell us, via some interposed lines, that he would gain admittance to Dorotea by bribing her maid.
Up to this point Fernando had been portrayed as wilful, splenetic, but mostly harmless. Only those familiar with the story could really detect at this stage a hint of the badness underlying his determination to gain access to Dorotea at any cost.
Scene 1.5 was wholly invented. Its overall purpose was to dramatise the growing bond between Cardenio and Fernando so that subsequent developments in their relationship would occur within an established context. All this guaranteed that we would feel the story, not just comprehend it.
Cardenio was now at the Duke’s court. Pedro told him that people were beginning to remark on the Duke’s favours towards him. As if to underline this point, two others passed by them before standing around and pointing at Cardenio. Pedro reminded his friend of the Duke’s request that he should find out what Fernando was up to.
Fernando arrived fresh from riding and carrying a saddle. He raved in his exuberant manner about the joy of breaking in horses. From Fernando, this was a barely concealed metaphor for womanising and particularly the conquering of virgins such as Dorotea.
Fernando praised Cardenio’s horsemanship to his brother. Once Pedro had gone, Fernando, who now had removed his shirt and placed the saddle on a bench, asked his friend to talk about his love Luscinda.
Cardenio explained how they had been childhood sweethearts, but her father had banned him from seeing her. They had continued to pursue a feverish romance through the exchange of love letters.
Fernando hugged and kissed Cardenio declaring that the “familiarity” he had for him had now turned “to love” and he required Cardenio’s advice on his affairs of the heart. Sat astride the saddle on the bench and accompanied by rocking movements, Fernando explained his love for Dorotea and how he intended to “conquer her integrity”. He made explicit the fact that Dorotea was a farmer’s daughter and her family was wealthy, as indicated in the Cardenio text list of characters.
But when Cardenio advised Fernando to be cautious and seek his father, the Duke’s, approval first, the fiery young man got angry. He pushed the saddle from the bench onto the ground. The ensuing argument had them talking over each other so that Fernando’s “A mare must first receive you on her back” was spoken simultaneously as Cardenio’s key phrase “Love for the most part is not love but lust”.
The closing couplet of lines spoken by the two at the end of the scene were spoken separately so that we could clearly distinguish between Cardenio’s reminder that maids are not toys and Fernando’s disputing that “love” had any meaning.
The scene of Dorotea’s ravishment (1.6) was also an invention of this production. A fiesta broke onto the downstage area to cover the installation of Dorotea’s chamber. A grill with a crucifix on top and paintings of relatives below was flown in to represent the back of her chamber. Chairs and other items were brought in to furnish the miniature set. The sound of a fiesta could be heard in the distance.
After her maid departed, she sat for a moment in silence. Fernando appeared from behind the back of the chamber and smiled disarmingly. He creeped up behind Dorotea and placed his hands over her eyes. She realised who it was and addressed him by name.
This looked quite harmless until the point that Fernando, pleading of the pain engendered by his love for her, pushed her in her chair so that it was almost tipped completely backwards. He pinned her arms to her sides, causing her to refer being “between a lion’s paws”. He then pushed the chair onto its back so that he was on top of her. But Dorotea managed to escape, reminding him that she was his “vassal, not your slave”.
Fernando persisted, saying “I give thee here my hand to be but thine” as he offered her a ring. At times he picked Dorotea up from the floor and held her aloft. He also offered to swear by the statue of Our Lady close by in the room. She again resisted, at which point Fernando threatened to turn violent, and taking a leaf out of Tarquin’s book, reminded her that no one would believe he had gained access to her without her consent.
Dorotea relented, calling in her maid to witness the handfasting ceremony and her acceptance of Fernando’s ring.
The sequence was completed as the world of the fiesta literally exploded onto the stage. Fireworks ignited and the set was plunged into darkness, as the couple kissed. Large mannequin figures circled the stage, crude depictions of a man and woman with enlarged genitalia were paraded round.
Fernando entered as these figures departed for the post-rape scene (2.1). He questioned “Ha! Is it come to this?” and suddenly a devil figure danced past him. He stared at it stuttering “Oh, the Devil, the Devil, the Devil!” before laughing and continuing with his soliloquy of self doubt. At times he slapped himself in the face.
“Was it rape then?” he queried. A woman in the audience laughed. Fernando located the origin of the laugh and approached the front of the stage to stare at her before delivering his one-word “No” as a riposte.
In a crucial piece of rewriting, Fernando claimed that Dorotea did consent to his advances, unlike in Double Falsehood where he admits that she did not. But in the final analysis, Fernando’s opinion about her consent did not change the significance of the rest of his description of her resistance and possible future recourse to action against him.
This scene also removed the choric figures of Fabian and Lopez in Double Falsehood, to provide yet more substance to Fernando’s close bond of friendship with Cardenio.
Speaking of an unspecific malaise, Fernando quoted back at Cardenio his maxim that “Love for the most part is not love but lust”. They reaffirmed their mutual friendship and embraced. Fernando told Cardenio that they were to travel to Almodovar, which offered his friend the tantalising prospect of seeing Luscinda again.
Dorotea entered alone, dressed in red, for the start of 2.2. She examined the ring on her finger when speaking of her dilemma and the difficulty of pleading her lack of consent to Fernando’s actions.
Gerardo brought in the letter from Fernando. Having read it and realising that she had been abandoned, Dorotea began her wailing with a newly written line “O, O, bitten and flung away!” simultaneously throwing the letter to the ground. She picked it up again soon after.
Her farewells and adieus ended with a mournful “Sorrow be my guide”.
Love at first sight
Another partially invented scene (2.3) set in Almodovar saw Cardenio and Fernando arrive outside Luscinda’s house just as she returned from church with her family. She dropped a book which Fernando recovered, giving him an opportunity to see her up close.
Fernando half giggled in excitement at seeing how beautiful she was. This seemed to prompt his next suggestion. When Cardenio explained his difficulty with Luscinda’s father, Fernando said he would speak to him on Cardenio’s behalf. He ordered Cardenio back to court.
Cardenio spoke to Luscinda through the grill, while Fernando addressed the audience to speak of this “Fair Luscinda”. He faced in her direction and prostrated himself on the ground declaring that she “reigns confessed the tyrant queen of my revolted heart”.
After Fernando exited, the scene closed with an exchange between Luscinda and Cardenio adapted from scene 1.2 of Double Falsehood. Cardenio explained that Fernando would act on his behalf and Luscinda wondered if there was any “instance of a friend turned false?” Her final cry of “My father” referred to her being called back inside the house and not, as in Double Falsehood, to her father’s imminent arrival.
The Duke sat inside the gate in a dark room for a very brief scene at court (2.4). It borrowed some of Pedro’s lines from Double Falsehood 1.1 referring to Fernando’s “letters of a modern date” requesting gold to buy horses and how he had sent Cardenio back to court.
As Pedro solemnly wondered “into what dangers are you coursing now?” Fernando appeared on the main body of the stage, as if in Pedro’s imagination
Scene 2.5 was basically scene 2.3 of Double Falsehood minus the first nine lines. Fernando remained onstage from 2.4. He stood outside Luscinda’s house and her father brought her out to meet him. She looked unhappy at what was being arranged and rolled her eyes in disbelief at Fernando’s love rhetoric, but her father countered her objections with bluster and sarcasm, partly directed at Cardenio’s lack of resolve.
Don Bernardo became very angry and shouted at his daughter to marry Fernando. This railing was so loud that it attracted members of the household staff to appear upstage to witness the confrontation. Luscinda wept and Fernando tried to calm Don Bernando down.
Luscinda reminded her father of his own wilfulness in marrying her mother. After Luscinda and Fernando had left him alone, Don Bernardo admitted she was right, to much audience amusement.
Cardenio’s father, Don Camillo, entered and broached the subject of his son’s marriage to his daughter, stressing his own personal wealth. He produced a physical document when referring to the marriage contract. But he became angry on discovering that he had been left out of the discussions.
He tried to get inside the house to see Luscinda. Don Bernardo held him back and eventually distracted his attention before rushing back behind the grill, swiftly locking it. The frustrated Don Camillo struck at the grill with his sword.
Scene 2.6 was the same as Double Falsehood 2.4. Luscinda appeared in spotlight at the grill stage right. She caught the attention of the passing Citizen and gave him a letter and a purse as a reward. The stage went dark and then was immediately relit to show the Citizen having handed the letter to Cardenio at the start of 3.1.
The Citizen’s lines were altered so that he described Luscinda as “Beblubbered all with tears” and Cardenio’s outrage at Fernando’s perfidy in pursuing Luscinda in his absence included references to horses and goats not in Double Falsehood.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the anguished tone of the scene, the audience found humour in Cardenio’s description of the story as being unbelievable if presented as fiction. The Citizen’s offer of his mule as transport and his wish it were like Pegasus likewise provoked titters from the auditorium.
Luscinda appeared in her wedding dress for 3.2 and became hysterical when talking of Cardenio’s presumed “plotted purpose” in not responding to her letter. Right from the start she showed the dagger she had hidden in her dress and remarked ominously how “life shall empty itself in death”.
Cardenio entered disguised under a hood, at which point Luscinda hid her dagger. After their joyous reunion the sound of the wedding music obliged Cardenio to hide “behind yon arras”: this was staged by Cardenio standing just offstage on the stage right walkway, which by theatre convention rendered him invisible. Just before Cardenio hid, Luscinda showed him the dagger and explained that she was armed.
An exchange was added in which Fernando asked Don Bernardo whether Luscinda was ready to be married. The intended couple argued, with Luscinda pointing out that Fernando would be marrying Cardenio’s love, wedding her body but not her heart.
When Cardenio caught sight of Fernando he drew his sword as if preparing to strike him, but remained hidden just offstage.
Don Bernardo dragged Luscinda in front of the Priest, who had lines to initiate the marriage ceremony. When questioned about her willingness to marry Fernando she did not answer. Cardenio willed her to maintain her silence, but with one “Yea” she finally submitted.
But the trauma of the moment caused her to faint and fall directly on top of Fernando. The following commotion saw the entire wedding party depart, leaving Cardenio alone for a newly-written soliloquy.
He bewailed the falsity of both Fernando and Luscinda for giving in to him. Some of Cardenio’s lines from Double Falsehood spoken in anger to Fernando after the interrupted wedding were used: some were spoken at the offstage Fernando and others were self-consciously quoted as things he should have said to him before.
He castigated his own cowardice in not intervening to save Luscinda. Indeed, his dramatic “Mine is the elder claim” entry is one of the dramatic highlights of the Double Falsehood version of the story. Cardenio’s weakness was again demonstrated by his failure to act.
His speech contained a clever phrase “And I a coward…” which sounded almost identical to fellow irresolute Hamlet’s “Am I a coward?” A subtle link was thereby created between the two characters.
Luscinda was carried into the garden of Don Bernardo’s house for a new scene 3.3, which contained a version of the final moments of Double Falsehood’s 3.2. Fernando found the letter indicating Luscinda’s prior betrothal and her intention to use her dagger.
Unlike in Double Falsehood, Fernando’s reaction to this was to fly into a temper, exclaiming “What, flout me?” and then run at Luscinda trying to stab her with her own dagger. He was restrained by Don Bernardo and his attendants and screamed “Dogs!” at them.
Crucially, the line in Double Falsehood given to Fernando “But tend her as you would the world’s best treasure” was transferred here to Don Bernardo.
Scene 3.4 was Double Falsehood’s 3.3. Pedro came across Don Camillo outside his house. Understandably, the father of Cardenio was angry at Pedro on basis of his close relation to Fernando.
Dorotea observed the pair from just offstage upstage left without referring to her loitering servant. She recognised Pedro, and not Don Camillo as in Double Falsehood, which corrected for her more likely familiarity with the Duke’s family.
The Citizen brought news that Cardenio had “left the city raging mad” and referred to the “cursed marriage”.
Don Bernardo appeared at the grill in spotlight. He was distraught and repentant for “forcing women where they hate”. He was given two extra lines “Oh, I could eat my heart and fling away my soul for anguish”.
An additional exchange between him and Don Camillo told us that Don Bernardo had not cried as much in thirty years.
Don Camillo and Don Bernardo almost came to blows, but were separated by Pedro. The three left in order to seek their relatives.
Dorotea came forward. She had been able to deduce from these conversations that Fernando was still available and, once more glancing at the ring Fernando had given her, she vowed to follow after him.
The lines in Double Falsehood spoken with her servant were cut, so that she told us herself that her father was offering a reward to anyone that brought her back home.
The interval came after her exit here. During this time the set was dressed with a general scattering of straw and two straw bales. The metal grill was stowed away to create a feeling of openness.
At the start of 4.1 the shepherds appeared along with Dorotea dressed as a boy, singing a love song in Spanish. Talking of Cardenio, one of the shepherds mentioned finding the carcass of dead mule, which was obviously the one lent to Cardenio by the Citizen.
Florio was mentioned by name rather than simply being referred to as ‘boy’. This would then be consistent with her subsequent appearance under that name.
Cardenio appeared in the stage right gallery looking bedraggled and sunburnt. In a new line, one of the shepherds referred to his face as “toasted by the sun”. The young man the entered the main stage and ran around talking nonsense. This was commented on by the 2nd Shepherd in another new line “I think his skull’s as empty as a sucked egg”, which got a laugh from the audience.
Dorotea and Cardenio sat on the ground downstage and after discussing her song he realised that she was a woman. Seeking to avenge the wrongs she had suffered, Cardenio hit the 2nd Shepherd in the face mistaking him for Fernando.
A tug of war ensued with Cardenio holding the 2nd Shepherd in a horizontal position firmly by the nose, and the other shepherds pulling in the opposite direction on his lower body.
This ended with Cardenio tweaking the 2nd Shepherd’s already injured nose before running off. This tug of war staging was a full realisation of the description of Cardenio as dragging a bullock backward by the tail.
The other shepherds left, with some new lines having them resolve to find Cardenio and take him to Almodovar “but eight leagues hence” in order to have him cured of his condition.
The Master had overheard Cardenio mention that the “boy” was a woman and had fixed his gaze on Dorotea for the entire time after that. Now he began his lascivious pursuit of her. He placed his hand on her breast, declaring “’Tis certainly a woman” and soon had his trousers round his ankles.
This leant a double meaning to Dorotea’s “You’re strangely out”. She wanted to convince him that he was incorrect (out) about her being female, but at the same time “out” referred to his near naked self-exposure.
Pedro arrived in the nick of time to allow Dorotea to escape the Master’s clutches. The disappointed and detumescent leader of the shepherds was understandably curt in his replies to Pedro.
Pedro mentioned Luscinda by name when quoting from Fernando’s letters, which had instructed him to meet his brother at this spot. Fernando duly arrived and fell prostrate on the ground before his brother.
Unlike in Double Falsehood, Fernando had already devised a plan to rescue Luscinda and merely outlined the scheme to Pedro rather than working it out with him. His attendants entered with monks’ habits and tall, pointy hoods.
Fernando explained that they were going to pretend to be transporting a body to a funeral. His explanation of the convenient plot device of the vacant hearse passing by, was played self-consciously for laughs, which the audience obligingly supplied. To make it a past event, Fernando said “we hired” the hearse rather than Double Falsehood’s forward-looking “We’ll hire”.
This was another instance in which Fernando’s comic side was emphasised, making him a more likeable figure.
Scene 4.2 saw the shepherds catch up with Cardenio as they had earlier vowed, thereby replacing the ‘two gentlemen’ of the same scene in Double Falsehood. Cardenio had to be restrained as he almost jumped into the front row of the stalls crying “O Luscinda!”
Music was heard and Dorotea appeared at the top of the stage left gallery singing “Fond echo”. She descended to the middle level for the next section of her song beginning “Go, tell him…”
Cardenio and the shepherds hid offstage right as Dorotea entered at ground level onto the main stage. The 2nd Shepherd recognised her, and named her as Florio, once more reinforcing her assumed identity.
Still obsessed with Fernando, she gazed again at the ring he had given her saying “I cannot get this false man’s memory out of my mind”. She sat centre stage continuing her lament at being “Forsaken Dorotea” but drew a dagger when saying that her only prospect of comfort would be “a quiet grave”.
Seeing this, Cardenio rushed forward and disarmed her before engaging her in conversation. Each learnt of the other’s true identity.
This production invented a scene to show the abduction of Luscinda from the nunnery (4.3).
A procession of white-clad nuns passed across from the stage right walkway to the gateway in the centre of the newly repositioned grill. The main group passed through inside leaving one outside. She turned round revealing herself to be Luscinda.
She read a harshly-worded letter from Cardenio and despaired at losing his affection. Wondering if heaven, hope and justice were deaf to her pleas, she discarded her rosary beads.
She tried to convince herself that she had resisted Fernando until the last possible moment and that Cardenio therefore had no reason to be so harsh. But she also conceded that despite her rebuffs, she must have done something to encourage Fernando and so accepted her present condition as penance.
A bell tolled, prompting her to ask the Novice what it was announcing. She was told of the procession with the hearse and, from the vague description of the dead man inside the coffin, got the idea that he was Cardenio.
The coffin was brought in by the pretend monks. The sight of what she assumed to be Cardenio’s coffin caused her to pick up her beads again and pray to “blessed Mary”.
Fernando burst out of the coffin and grabbed Luscinda. He stuffed her still screaming down into the coffin and closed the lid firmly. The others came and carried out the coffin.
For the start of act five the coffin was carried back onto the stage, now representing somewhere outside the nunnery. The coffin was opened and Luscinda screamed in shock as she was released.
She asked where she was, and Pedro’s redundant reassurance that she was “Not in the nunnery” made the audience laugh. Luscinda was withering in her attack on Pedro for helping his brother.
Pedro called on Fernando to answer her accusations, and his brother duly prostrated himself on the ground. But his florid excuses about being spurred on by Luscinda’s “sacred beams” did not impress her. She castigated “this well-dissembled passion”. In a change to Double Falsehood, she specifically asked Fernando where Cardenio was. This meant that Pedro would later recognise the name when mentioned by Dorotea.
As Pedro escorted Luscinda away, Dorotea entered and explained her situation, also mentioning Cardenio by name. Pedro asked Dorotea to lead him to Cardenio.
The final scene (5.2) saw the fathers gather on stage at the inn, which was indicated by some tavern furnishings at the rear of the set. Don Bernardo was still mourning “like April” as we saw earlier.
Luscinda and Fernando were brought in by Pedro. Luscinda was greeted warmly by her father, while Fernando, seeing both his father and Cardenio’s, turned to face the audience to voice his anguish. Don Camillo, still separated from Cardenio, remained vocally unhappy.
Surprisingly, the Duke’s “The voice of parents is the voice of gods” speech was greeted with hoots of derision from some in the audience. It was not possible to determine if they were children protesting at this assertion of parental authority, or disaffected parents mocking its absurd optimism about the scope of that power.
This speech by the Duke was partly directed at Fernando, whom he rounded on when referring to the “wanton freight of youth”.
Don Camillo picked up on this accusative mood to praise Luscinda and imply that Don Bernardo “that snuff” was not her real father.
Prompted by the Duke spotting ‘Florio’ offstage, Pedro turned to Fernando to mention his page. Fernando responded with characteristic volatility to the accompanying accusations of stealing and then abandoning the page.
Dorotea entered still disguised as Florio. Her answers to the Duke’s questions prompted more furious denials from Fernando. Don Camillo’s outrage at Fernando was also comically excessive.
Pedro produced the letter that the page was supposed to have delivered and read from it. Fernando instantly recognised it as the one he had sent to Dorotea. He pleaded for forgiveness from his father, the Duke, but still denied knowing the page. Dorotea exited to fetch Cardenio at Pedro’s instructions.
Pedro announced the entry of Cardenio. The line by which Cardenio confronted Fernando in Double Falsehood “Now, sir, whose practice breaks?” was transferred here to Pedro. Dorotea did not re-enter with Cardenio.
Fernando’s response “Another rascal!” (which occurs before the “whose practice” line in Double Falsehood) was followed by an apparent reconciliation. Fernando knelt before Cardenio and then rose but instead of embracing his former friend he attacked him. After a brief scuffle, Cardenio threw Fernando to the ground at the back of the tavern.
Don Camillo had still not recognised his son because of his dishevelled condition. But on being told who he was, they embraced. Luscinda wept and was very emotional to see Cardenio again and they approached each other.
At this point Fernando returned downstage and snatched an attendant’s sword from its scabbard, grabbed Luscinda from Cardenio and held her close to him, fending off the others at sword point.
Dorotea, now with her hair down and recognisably a woman, ran onstage and stood before Fernando.
She spoke a long speech, pleading to Fernando as “Disasterous Dorotea, thy wife” and referring to her “matchless affections”. She offered to be his slave if he would not take her for what she was.
Fernando was moved. Dorotea invoked the various witnesses to the their union, including his owns words and “thine own hand” which was demonstrated by yet another display of the ring he had given her.
Fernando wept and spoke some of the lines from his reconciliation in Double Falsehood, kissing her repeatedly “thus, thus, thus and thus” (an extra kiss).
Don Camillo got an appropriate laugh with his line “Here’s a new change!”
Luscinda’s lines about what happens when “lovers swear true faith” were transferred to Don Bernardo.
Having been released by Fernando, Luscinda finally got to embrace Cardenio. The Duke enjoined Fernando to ask Cardenio forgiveness. Without taking his eyes off Luscinda, Cardenio responded “He has it, sir”.
The Duke’s reference to Dorotea’s father and the boar hunt were cut so that his elevation of her status was solely down to her own virtue. This boosted the significance of her character.
The couples went to the offstage ends of the side walkways with Cardenio and Luscinda stage right and Fernando and Dorotea stage left. The significant look from Fernando to Cardenio in the text stage directions was not acted.
The performance ended with a Globe-style jig.
Fernando’s sexual incontinence was made the comic heart of this production. His relations with Luscinda and Dorotea were the mainspring of its action. Cardenio, who no longer intervened at Luscinda’s forced wedding, was reduced to the sidelines. His problems were resolved partly by his brother and partly by Dorotea’s last-minute intervention to rescue Luscinda from Fernando’s clutches.
Compared with the Mokitagrit production of Double Falsehood, which staged quite a brutal violation of its Violante/Dorotea, this Cardenio was surprising for the way that it softened the edges of the crime. This might be thought to be consistent with restoring the play to performance conditions in the Jacobean era.
Whatever might be said about the merits of the production as an accurate re-imagining of Shakespeare’s ‘lost’ play, in performance this Cardenio was a thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre.
If audiences can be wowed by adaptations of Shakespeare/Fletcher collaborations as long as they are flagged with sufficient prominence as ‘Shakespeare’, then it offers the possibility of significantly expanding audience tastes, enabling them to appreciate other early modern plays.
The Rape of Lucrece, Swan Stratford, 2 April 2011
Camille O’Sullivan’s performance of The Rape of Lucrece lasted for 1h20m with no interval. During this time she maintained a constant flow of words both spoken and sung, taking only two sips from a glass. In those 80 minutes she led an audience on a journey into the dark heart of one of Shakespeare’s narrative poems.
The start of the performance was disarmingly simple. The stage of the Swan Theatre was empty apart from a grand piano, two piles of white paper and a pair of white shoes placed neatly downstage.
Camille and pianist Feargal Murray wandered on, Feargal quietly taking up position at the keys, while Camille, carrying a pair of heavy army boots, addressed the audience as herself.
She welcomed us to the Swan and began explaining the background to the story of Lucrece in simple terms (the boots, she said, represented Tarquin) before progressing seamlessly into her performance of the poem proper.
As the story unfolded she took on the roles of both Lucrece and Tarquin, singing and giving voice to both the violator and the violated. She occasionally stamped on the stage with her foot to mark out the rhythm of the songs.
In a neat piece of staging, Camille showed us Tarquin creeping through the corridors of Lucrece’s house extinguishing candles as he went. This was presented as her miming the snuffing of the candles with each motion accompanied by the strategic darkening of that particular section of the stage.
It was remarkable to see a woman play convincingly the part of a man with Tarquin’s intentions and professed desires.
The pivotal scene of Lucrece’s rape was the most memorable and perhaps, for the performer, the most demanding.
At one moment she was Tarquin leaning over the unseen Lucrece with his hand on her throat, a jacket poised to smother her cries standing in for the “nightly linen” with which Lucrece is silenced in the poem.
With a deft movement, she turned on her back and became the struggling Lucrece weighed down by her assailant.
The pianist, who had until that moment provided a consonant musical accompaniment, got up from his seat and played a series of dissonant notes directly on the piano strings. His perverse grasping into the innards of the instrument was a strange echo of Tarquin’s crime.
After this point the poem deals with Lucrece’s tormented inner debate about honour and decency that ends with her suicide.
The transition was marked by Lucrece wearing her hair down, and with her black jacket removed to reveal her white smock, she adopted a colour scheme usually associated with purity and chastity.
The performance was passionate but even with the excision of Lucrece’s contemplation of the Trojan painting, its extended treatment of Lucrece inner world began to drag slightly and some restlessness could be detected in the otherwise engaged audience. Not even Lucrece’s frustrated upending of the stacks of paper could enliven the final stages of this long performance.
The moment of the suicide itself seemed underplayed compared with the staging of the rape. Some rose petals fell to the stage as Lucrece ended her life with a simple dagger blow. More was needed to underline the significance of this act, perhaps linking it thematically with the crime that had prompted it.
The audience gave Camille a standing ovation at the end, and similar standing ovations were reported on other nights during the short run of just four performances.
There was much right about this rendition of the poem. The decision to play it without an interval meant that the atmosphere did not dissipate.
But this meant that any defects in latter half were amplified for them being a long way into a single span of attention. The 9pm start for the performance also did nothing to keep the audience fresh and perky.
Some of the songs were so loud that their words became indistinct, which is unfortunate when presenting an edited work where each word counts.
Despite Camille deserving great applause for the sheer work rate involved in keeping an audience’s attention singled-handed for 80 minutes, her performance could have benefited from some tweaking, particularly in the latter section when a restless audience needed more landmark moments to sustain interest.
I came away from it feeling that it required more work and that a true standing ovation should be reserved for an improved version.
The Rape of Lucrece is certainly, in any event, a worthy target of dramatisation. As the Arden edition of Shakespeare’s Poems points out on p. 43 of its introduction “Shakespeare’s narrator prefers always to recount the flow of Lucrece’s thoughts rather than her physical actions. She is in this sense audible rather than visible to the reader.”
The text of the poem, as Lucrece’s inner monologue, leaves the performer free to invent a visible physical presence for the character. This vital window of creativity can be illuminated in many different ways, leaving scope for further treatments.
Perhaps as more productions like this emerge exploring the theatricality and performability of the poem, academic treatments will be obliged to include the kind of extensive performance histories normally associated with studies of Shakespeare’s plays?
Love Is My Sin, Swan Stratford, 8 January 2011
Peter Brook selected some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, arranged them to form a dialogue between a man and a woman, and got Michael Pennington and Natasha Parry to perform them to a musical accompaniment from Franck Krawczyk.
The result was a 50-minute piece with no interval that delighted and stimulated without being entirely convincing.
The free programme helpfully listed the sonnets in their order of performance and grouped them by the theme they were meant to illustrate. The programme also told us that Peter Brook considers the sonnets to be autobiographical in that they are a “private diary” in which we can read “Shakespeare’s own, most secret life”.
Below is the list from the programme:
15, 19, 30, 64, 73, 12
57, 29, 97, 50, 44, 27, 49, 87
149, 147, 120, 93, 92, 138, 61, 110, 129, 142, 90, 145
71, 146, 60, 123, 116
Not surprisingly the meditations on the passage of time were taken mostly from the first 126 sonnets, in which the writer exhorts the ‘lovely Boy’ to reproduce before time ravages him or else live on preserved only by the writer’s pen. Similarly, the section on jealousy derived in the main from the Dark Lady sonnets 127-152, in which a love triangle is described.
The performance began with the slow, solemn entry of the actors onto the stage with the musician taking up position behind a keyboard. The stage was dotted with chairs and a table between which the actors moved as their story unfolded.
Hearing the sonnets spoken, with actions fitted to the words, was a delight. There were some touching moments, particularly in the middle of the “jealousy” sequence when after some harsh exchanges we saw the couple momentarily reconciled over the course of sonnet 138 “When my love swears that she is made of truth”. This began with Pennington’s jokey accusation but concluded with the couple cuddling each other as he spoke the lines:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.
The bit that worked best for me was the superb juxtaposition of sonnet 129 “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame” with its powerful denunciation of the warped nature of lust, which Parry launched into as an accusatory tirade against her faithless lover, and the titular sonnet 142 “Love is my sin”, which Pennington delivered on his knees in penitence and confession of his faults.
Otherwise there was no clear story arc to be discerned. The themed grouping of the selected sonnets in the programme gave an indication of what Peter Brook was thinking. But in performance the 50 minutes appeared to be a vague to-and-fro of point and retort between the couple that did not have the satisfactory structure of a piece written deliberately as a drama.
However, the final sonnet 116 “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments” about the immutability of love “That looks on tempests and is never shaken” did provide a fitting conclusion to the sequence, after which the performers walked slowly from the stage just as they had entered.
But the lack of a clear-cut dramatic structure did not detract at all from the simple joy of hearing the sonnets performed and brought to life. It was possible to enjoy the experience and accept each twist and turn in the series of poems without fussing over the bigger picture. It could be appreciated in the moment like one of those cute French films that has people discussing life and the meaning of love, but which ultimately goes nowhere.