Banishing John Falstaff

Henry IV Part One, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 3 May 2014

The production began on a very sombre note in a candle-lit chapel with Henry (Jasper Britton) prostrated before a large crucifix (1.1). As he began his complaint, the distinctive figure of Richard II appeared briefly on the stage left balcony, indicating that the source of Henry’s malaise was his guilt at usurping his predecessor. This also implied that his self-characterisation as “shaken” referred to his bad conscience about Richard rather than the “civil broils” that were his immediate concern. Henry was immediately brought to our attention as psychologically complex and with depth of feeling and conscience.

However, over in the Prince’s apartment the mood was somewhat different (1.2). The dark chamber contained a large bed, on which Hal (Alex Hassell) bade goodbye to two wenches who had just finished servicing him. One was already visible sat astride him, while a second emerged from under the sheets. Hal went to open the chamber shutters, the sudden noise of which woke Falstaff (Antony Sher), who popped up from under the bedclothes at the foot of the bed. This sudden intrusion of daylight prompted Falstaff’s question about the time of day and his insistence that he was one of the “gentlemen of the shade” rather than a daytime person. Hal opened the window and eventually put a shirt on.

Antony Sher’s Falstaff sounded like the kind of upper-middle class gentleman that haunts the expensive seats at the RSC. It was possible to imagine him preparing for the role by drawing on decades of memories of rubbing shoulders with the Warwickshire/Oxfordshire bourgeoisie.

With the arrival of Poins (Sam Marks), the three agreed to rob at Gad’s Hill (pronounced “Gade’s Hill”). Hal was very excitable throughout the conversation but this changed when he was left alone at the end of the scene.

Hal’s soliloquy was framed in dramatic spotlight centre stage as he addressed the audience in a particularly portentous way with his master plan to live dissolutely and then abruptly revert to virtue. This was first indication of the emphasis that Part One would place on Hal’s change of attitude to Falstaff, together with Hal’s general transformation. Rather than an explanatory footnote to the scene, the speech was a foreboding of dark events to come.

Henry met with the rebels (1.3). The staging emphasised royal power with Henry facing the audience sat on the throne backed by his supporters while the northern insurrectionists kneeled before him. This created an obvious imbalance of status and power quite unlike the semicircle of chairs used in the Globe production.

The bleached blonde Hotspur (Trevor White) immediately looked like trouble. Anger and aggression boiled to the surface. A letter was thrown back into Hotspur’s face and the king rudely shouted at him that he did “belie” Mortimer.

This roughness and tension continued once Hotspur was alone with his relatives. When Hotspur would not stop talking he was wrestled to ground, forcing from him an apology “Good uncle, tell your tale; I have done”. Hotspur insisted on pursuing a course of revenge until he was pulled by the hair on the back of the head and told by Worcester (Antony Byrne) to follow his letter-borne instruction.

The action switched to Rochester as the carriers (Nicholas Gerard-Martin & Robert Gilbert) gathered in the darkness with their lanterns (2.1). A neat piece of technology allowed the turkeys inside their baskets to make realistic gobbling noises. The character usually known as Gadshill was here called Rakehell (Jonny Glynn) and received confirmation from the Chamberlain (Simon Yadoo) of the movements of the intended targets of the robbery.

The more active robbers ran around hiding from Falstaff and teasing him as the heist was prepared (2.2). Hal fell to the ground to listen for approach of the victims, prompting Falstaff’s joke about the levers that would be required to lift him from that position.

The nuns and the carriers were assaulted. The robbers took the money chest and tried to open it with a hacksaw, while Hal and Poins crept up on them in hoods and facemasks. The robbers were surprised and ran off, with Falstaff not even attempting to fight.

Hotspur was annoyed at a weasel-worded letter refusing him assistance (2.3). He threw it to the ground and shouted at it before being intercepted by Lady Percy (Jennifer Kirby). She was a good match for her husband, with the vague air of a tough man’s wife.

She wanted to know why he had been ignoring her. He began to leave but turned back when she mentioned that she had watched over him while he was asleep. She continued to talk sweetly to him and he almost fell for her charms, but then suddenly pulled away to question a servant.

Lady Percy then tried a more direct physical approach and went to grab his little finger, but he wrenched her arm and forced her to the ground, so that she was lying there when she asked him “Do you not love me?” He responded to this by picking her up and holding her aloft with one arm.

The Eastcheap set (and those of other locations) slid sideways onto the stage rather than using the basement trap doors (2.4). This was to make them compatible with the Barbican theatre and other touring venues. It seems that the RST has been fitted with basements and fly towers that cannot be used with its major productions that transfer to London and beyond.

Hal told Poins about his mixing with the common people, whom he jokingly referred to as “Tom, Dick (Harry) and Francis”, the extra name being thrown in case we had not realised what the expression meant.

Returned from his ignominious failure at Gad’s Hill, Falstaff began his fantastical account of the robbery and its aftermath. Hal raised a drink in cheers to the audience, indicating that he would indeed contradict Falstaff’s story for our imminent amusement. Hal stood on the money box to demand Falstaff’s excuse for his arrant lying.

Doll (Nia Gwynne) was present in Eastcheap in Part One, and touched Falstaff affectionately on occasions, preparing us for the full display of their relationship in Part Two.

Moving on to the play extempore, a chair was placed on a table to serve as a throne, while another chair was placed on a table just opposite. Falstaff repeatedly asked if Hal was afraid of the impending fight with the rebels and repeatedly put his hand on Hal’s shoulder, which the prince brushed off.

The comical role play between Falstaff and Hal moved to portentous conclusion. Hal said of Falstaff’s banishment “I do; I will”. At first he was jovial, but then placed his hands firmly on the armrests of the chair and appeared to have a change of heart, brushing a hand through his hair as if regretting his pronouncement. This was followed by Macbeth-like banging at the door.

Hal slapped the Chief Justice (Simon Thorp) when he came looking for Falstaff and Bardolph (Joshua Richards). This served to underline the animosity between the two. This invented business was included because of the subsequent references to the assault in Part Two.

Over in Wales, Hotspur thought he had forgotten the map on which the rebels were to divide their spoils, but Glendower (Joshua Richards) had pulled the huge map in behind him as he entered (3.1).

Glendower looked and sounded just like Sam Cairns’ version of the character at the Globe in 2010.

The King had summoned Hal for a serious talk (3.2). Hal began his excuses for his behaviour, but was pulled by the ear by the King towards the chapel kneeling pad. This marked the turning point at which Hal realised exactly how seriously his father took the issue of his behaviour. If the idea was latent when he had spoken to us earlier in soliloquy, this was the moment that he decided to act on his intentions.

In Eastcheap, Falstaff emptied dregs from abandoned cups into his own, displaying mild signs of delirium tremens (3.3). The speech in which Falstaff described his virtue but ironically undercut each statement with a humorous caveat was here divided between Falstaff and Bardolph so that his companion was the source of the more honest version rather than Falstaff himself. The advantage of this staging was questionable.

A running joke extended across both productions in which all references and allusions to Quickly’s husband and her married status were followed by communal coughing. In Part Two this accompanied references to Quickly (Paola Dionisotti) being a widow.

The inconsistency of the production’s modernisation of language could be seen in the way that the reference to “dowlas” was changed to “muslin”, but the price reference “eight shillings an ell” was left in. An audience trusted to work out that an “ell” is a unit of length could also be trusted to determine that dowlas was a cheap fabric.

Despite his realisation in the previous scene that his relationship with Falstaff had to change, Hal was here still in a good mood with Falstaff as he gave him his battle orders.

Falstaff’s last words in the scene “I could wish this tavern were my drum” were rounded off with the sound of drums heralding the entry of the more reliably martial Douglas (Sean Chapman) and Hotspur (4.1).

Hotspur continued his manic preparations for war brushing aside any concerns that their forces were underpowered.

On his way to fight the rebels, Falstaff asked Bardolph to fill a bottle of sack for him, which when handed over was seen to be comically enormous (4.2).

In an initial sign of his displeasure with Falstaff, Hal was visibly appalled at the condition of his pressed soldiers. Hal could also be seen taking exception to Falstaff’s callous attitude to these men deemed merely “food for powder”.

Hotspur was still raring to attack the King’s forces (4.3). Blount (Simon Thorp) brought an offer of pardon but Hotspur responded by lecturing him at length about the severity of their grievances.

Blount asked “Shall I return this answer to the King?” In a clever tweaking of the text, the following lines, in which Hotspur appears to relent “Not so, Sir Walter. We’ll withdraw awhile”, were given to Worcester. The sequence turned into Worcester being conciliatory, holding back Hotspur and calming his rage, while the young rebel continued to glower with frustrated anger.

This created consistency. Given how eager Hotspur was, the text’s version in which he made the concession looked out of character. It also created a parallel with events in the next scene.

At Shrewsbury Worcester met with the King and his party, including Hal (5.1). In a parallel with the Hotspur/Worcester sequence in 4.3, the King had to restrain Hal from offering to fight with Hotspur in single combat.

Hal showed a new censoriousness towards Falstaff by ordering him to be quiet and refrain from his inappropriate wisecracks. This textual indication of Hal’s changed attitude fitted in well with the other more subtle indications of Hal’s transformation created by directorial decisions.

Hal maintained that the peace offer would not be accepted, exuding an air of foreboding and intimating that the King’s judgment was wrong.

Given his previous pronouncements it was possible to detect some wishful thinking in Hal’s parting words to Falstaff: “Say thy prayers, and farewell” and “Why, thou owest God a death”. His wish was truly father to those thoughts.

This led into Falstaff’s “honour” soliloquy in which he showed us the scutcheon on his buckler to illustrate one of his metaphors.

Worcester decided not to tell Hotspur about the peace offer, realising that the King would inevitably find a way to punish their disobedience (5.2). Hotspur predictably whooped with delight when he heard that the fight was on.

In the midst of the raging battle a desperate Hal asked to borrow Falstaff’s sword (5.3). He offered him his pistol instead, handing over a leather container. Hal discovered that it held yet another bottle of sack, which he angrily discarded, building on his previous animosity to become truly outraged at Falstaff’s inappropriate antics.

Douglas fought the King to the ground, but Hal rushed in to stand over his father, threatening the Scot with his sword, after which Douglas skulked away (5.4).

There was a fantastically fast double sword fight between Hal and Hotspur. Hal lost both his swords and ended up defending himself with his buckler. He regained a sword and was given a second one, continuing to fight without a buckler. Hal eventually dealt Hotspur fatal blows to the stomach. Just before, Falstaff had apparently been cut down upstage and was lying motionless.

Hal honoured Hotspur in death, holding his sword hilt over him and paying him his due respects. Then Hal found Falstaff and did the same but with a subtly different emphasis.

Hal’s contemplation of the supposedly dead Falstaff culminated in him raising his sword over his body, looking as if he would honour Falstaff with praises as he had just done with Hotspur. But he hinted that he was not displeased to see his companion dead, saying: “O, I should have a heavy miss of thee if I were much in love with vanity”, which was crucially caveated; speaking of the battle dead he referred to those other than Falstaff as the “many dearer”.

This was undercut when Falstaff rose up. At first he struggled to right himself, wobbling like beetle on its back. When Hal saw Falstaff alive he took a step backwards in shock and pointed his sword at him as if he were a demonic illusion. Hal ordered Falstaff to carry Douglas away on his back.

This was a very interesting trajectory for the Hal/Falstaff relationship because it effectively cleared the way for the friendlier rapport between them at the start of Part Two.

The concluding scene saw a large map spread out on the stage on which the King, victorious over his immediate enemies, was planning his further campaigns against the rebels (5.5).

 

Henry IV Part Two, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 3 May 2014

The “switch off phones” announcement merged into an exhortation to “Switch off your phone… open your ears”, the latter phrase being the first three words of the Induction to Part Two. The remainder was spoken by the character of Rumour (Antony Byrne), a man looking like a member of the stage crew complete with a Rolling Stones tongue logo t-shirt, picking up on the line “upon my tongues continual slanders ride”.

Rumour used his phone to photograph the audience and the set, then began his speech as multiple copies of the #rumour hashtag were projected onto the back wall, establishing a connection between traditional rumour mill and contemporary social media. The phrase “Open your ears” was also flashed across it and spoken in several languages.

After Northumberland (Sean Chapman) had digested the news of his faction’s defeat and the death of Hotspur (1.1), the mood and location changed.

Falstaff was proudly displaying the medal he had won for his services at Shrewsbury when his Page returned with his water pot (1.2). The boy was very small, justifying Falstaff’s description of him as “fitter to be worn in my cap”. The Page mentioned that Hal had struck the Lord Chief Justice, which to create consistency across the productions had been shown in Part One.

Sher continued his impression of the kind of upper middle class gent so common in the audience at Stratford.

The boring, featureless exposition of 1.3 quickly gave way to some more London-based comedy as Quickly gave Fang (Youssef Kerkour) and Snare (Martin Bassindale) their last-minute instructions about arresting Falstaff (2.1).

There was a brilliant moment of textual awareness. Mistress Quickly mentioned in all innocence her “case so openly known to the world” upon which Fang and Snare each gave a brief downward glance to bring out the sex joke in that line. In keeping with that theme, Quickly was also referred to as “Quick Lay”.

The fight in which Fang and Snare failed to detain Falstaff was not very convincing and was interrupted by the arrival of the Chief Justice, the ensuing dealings with Quickly providing another outing for the running joke about her marriage, this time with everyone coughing at her being a “poor widow”.

Hal and Poins returned from playing tennis and stood around shirtless for a while before getting dressed (2.2). Hal’s reminder of a point already made briefly by Falstaff, that the Page had been a gift from Hal to him, was a sign that their friendship had been rekindled. But the first mention of Falstaff’s name caused Hal to look down at the ground grimly, hinting that all was not completely well.

The arrival of Bardolph and the Page was the occasion of some more winsome child acting. Bardolph was paid money for his silence about Hal and Poins’ trick on Falstaff, but the Page stole the cash and ran off, turning his last phrase in the scene “I will govern it” into his bold statement as he snatched the money bag away from his companion.

The scene showing Lady Percy’s misgivings about Northumberland’s intention to return to war was remarkable for the fact that Nia Gwynne (Doll Tearsheet) played Lady Northumberland in a change to the usual doubling of this role with Mistress Quickly (2.3).

The action returned to Eastcheap, where once again Francis (Elliot Barnes-Worrell) popped up out of the trap door hatch, calling “anon anon, Sir!” to an impatient, unseen customer (2.4).

The private room where Falstaff was being entertained was laid out on a small platform. This looked like another concession to the requirements of touring the production. On first sight, it looked cramped and would prove so later on. The confinement of the scene’s action within such a small space on the large RST thrust looked very odd.

Nia Gwynne’s Doll was sick into a bowl and comforted by Quickly. Falstaff insisted that Pistol (Antony Byrne) be admitted, confirming “It is mine ensign” rather than “ancient”.

Pistol was wide-eyed and with his hair on end to create an alarming look. He entered with a bang as his pistols went off and engaged in his sexual innuendoes.

Doll forced Pistol down onto the ground, but he soon overcame, putting a knife to her throat exclaiming “Have we not Hiren here?”

Seeing that Doll was in danger, Quickly disarmed him as he commented “These be good humours”. Pistol went from the threatening to the ridiculous. He dropped his trousers and after Doll suggested he should be thrust downstairs, he lewdly asked “Thrust him? Downstairs?” looking at his bulging underpant codpiece.

Pistol wrapped the Eastcheap crew up in a curtain and pulled on it like reins to curb them like “pampered jades of Asia” before being forced out the back of the small set.

Doll questioned Falstaff about Hal and Poins: each of them popped their head up over the rear curtain when mentioned.

They eventually played their trick by pretending to be servers. The first meeting between Hal and Falstaff contained a slight undercurrent of animosity, but nothing to overt dislike on Hal’s part.

Falstaff was called to the court and left the room platform, but paused on the main stage to cry silently with his face in his hand, an extratextual moment. Bardolph saw this and returned to the room to fetch Doll, which is part of the text. She comforted Falstaff in his distress, providing additional weight to the tenderness of their relationship as well as highlighting the vulnerability behind Falstaff’s boasting. The whole sequence provided a neat explanation for Doll’s summons.

Mistress Quickly fell asleep in a chair and the room fell dark and silent.

The third act followed on seamlessly from the previous scene. Wrapped in a dark sheet and looking distinctly unwell, the King entered through the back of the Eastcheap platform as Quickly dozed. His lines to the Page cut.

Henry entered the world of Eastcheap so that when he spoke to us saying “How many thousand of my poorest subjects are at this hour asleep!” he was able to point to Quickly as an example as she snored.

The King walked off the front of the platform to move downstage, which differentiated him from the others who had all left the room through its back door. This suggested that his presence here was illusory: that he was theatrically but not physically inside an Eastcheap tavern.

The interval came at the end of the scene after the King had spoken with Warwick and Surrey about defeating the rebels.

The second half began in Gloucestershire, the refreshed audience encountering the delightful Oliver Ford Davies as Shadow conversing with Silence (3.2). Silence (Jim Hooper) was wearing mittens like a child and was equally childlike in his ignorance, or rather forgetfulness. Shadow asked various questions about their mutual friends and relations, but senescent Silence did not seem to know whom he was talking about.

There was a running gag involving Shadow’s leg shaking whenever he became excited. He first began to tremble when reminiscing about the “bona robas” of his student days, and subsequently when remembering Jane Nightwork a little while after.

The pressed men appeared: Mouldy (Simon Yadoo) was diseased, Wart (Leigh Quinn) crept along the ground and Bullcalf (Youssef Kerkour) was predictably big.

In another annoying textual change, Mouldy said “If it please you” rather than the equally comprehensible “an’t”. If a production starts running scared of the language, then where does it stop?

Bullcalf’s self-correction of his illness from “cold” to “cough” was made to sound like the actor correcting a misremembered line, an effect that was cleverly rendered.

Falstaff managed to leverage the full quotient of innuendo from his exhortation “No more of that Master Shallow…”

Wart was given a gun but could barely hold it upright. Shadow demonstrated its correct use and charged around brandishing it threateningly, ending his display of martial prowess by striking the butt firmly on the ground, at which point the gun went off.

Falstaff communed with the audience, telling us about Shadow’s youth when he was known as “Mandrake”, a remark which prompted a ripple of laughter that Falstaff gratefully acknowledged. He appeared to have found the audience’s level when they snickered at his comment that “he came ever in the rearward of the fashion” with more chortling and Falstaff relishing his apparently unintended double entendre.

Westmoreland (Youssef Kerkour) tricked the rebels into thinking their demands had been met and that they had won (4.1), only for John of Lancaster (Elliot Barnes-Worrell) to confirm the deal, watch the rebel army disperse, and then arrest the traitors (4.2).

Coalville (Robert Gilbert) had been mentioned by name in an earlier scene to give more credence to his sudden appearance in 4.3 as Falstaff helped mop up the remainders of the fleeing rebel forces.

Falstaff called out after the departing John of Lancaster “I would you had but the wit”, making plain his dislike of Hal’s cold-blooded sibling.

This thought led Falstaff into his great paean to sack and its warming, inflammatory effects. He took a deep draught from a clay pot before expounding on each element of its “twofold operation”.

Antony Sher revelled in exploring the physicality of Falstaff’s reaction to sherry. This portrayal was different to that given by Roger Allam in the Globe version, which was slightly more clinical.

The text’s “sherris” was emended rather disappointingly to “sherry”. Sherry is something that is drunk at Christmas, usually in a modest, restrained way. Gourmand Falstaff should really drink something more exotic and tinged with his characteristic wildness, and the word “sherris” fits the bill perfectly.

To add insult to injury, the culmination of Falstaff’s fine speech was also pinched and clipped to deprive it of its full glory. We were left with:

If I had a thousand sons, the first [humane] principle I would teach them should be to [forswear thin potations, and to] addict themselves to sack”.

A beautifully balanced phrase was spoilt by the clumsy hand of the editor.

The King looked very ill and was helped in by his entourage. His surprising reaction on hearing the good news of the rebels’ defeat was to collapse sideways, before being carried to rest in another chamber (4.4).

The King was put to bed with the crown next to him (4.5). The scene provided an efficient but predictable staging of Hal’s appropriation of the crown and his subsequent contrition.

Shallow continued to entertain Falstaff and friends (5.1). Shallow’s repetition of “no excuse” was accompanied by the repeated unloading of money bags, presumably either their pay for recruiting men or bribes paid to them to be excused from military service.

News that the King had “walked the way of nature” was soon followed by the new king being revealed on his throne (5.2). This dramatic reveal was very effective, much more so than having him walk onstage. The text added a reference to the Chief Justice being assaulted: he stated that Hal had “struck me in an Eastcheap tavern” rather than the original “my very seat of judgment”.

Mad Pistol delivered the news of Hal’s accession which was received with great joy by Falstaff (5.3). There was a touching moment at the end of the scene once the stage had emptied of those keen to get to London, Pistol sat with Silence and began to sing “Where is the life that late I led?” and Silence, who had previously been on good singing form, joined in with him.

The arresting officers crudely snatched and discarded the red cushion that Doll had stuffed up her dress to fake a pregnancy and thus escape the law (5.4).

Falstaff readied himself centre stage as the regal procession entered via the stage right walkway and proceeded upstage (5.5). The King entered and walked on past the entreating Falstaff, but then turned round, looked back at his old friend and denounced him. Falstaff showed no sign of upset or shock. Possibly this was recognition and he was just saving face in front of the others.

As we were left to take in the culmination of the subplot, the Page wandered onstage at the end as the lights went down.

Conclusions

The overall trajectory of the Hal/Falstaff relationship was determined by the relative lack of interaction between them in Part Two, so that Hal’s overt statements in Part One were heavily reinforced by subtle hints throughout both parts, preparing the way for his renunciation of Falstaff at the end of the second instalment.

Neither production made use of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s fly tower or basement lift, possibly to facilitate Barbican transfer. If this is to be the pattern for major productions, which have to fit the Barbican, then what was the point of these impressive capabilities?

Hippolyta’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford, 17 September 2011

The stage was dressed as an industrial unit with a roller door to the rear and a metal staircase with landing on the left. A sofa stood stage left and a café table with two chairs were placed downstage right. An armchair stood upstage right.

The sound of running water could be heard offstage before the start of the performance. During this time, some audience members accidentally wandered onto the main stage to investigate the origin of the sound.

Characters entered in dribs and drabs. Two punky looking women played cards at the café table, while a woman in a fur coat sat alone on the sofa. She stared out disconsolately towards the audience, lost in her own thoughts.

This was very reminiscent of the start of the RSC’s Merchant of Venice in which Scott Handy’s Antonio had done a similar thing in the Las Vegas casino.

We were meant to understand that Pippa Nixon’s Hippolyta was unhappy. Those familiar with recent Merchant could well have expected her first words to have been “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad”.

Smoke started to emerge from a trap door downstage. Alex Hassell’s Demetrius went to investigate, opened the door and wafted the smoke away. Soon a team of repair men, the mechanicals, arrived via the roller door and descended the trap with tools and a length of air duct.

The industrial unit took on the air of a seedy nightclub as besuited doormen shuffled and looked nervous as if expecting the arrival of someone important. Demetrius stood in position and polished a shoe on the back of his trouser leg.

Theseus entered. He wore a suit, but the ponytail and rough accent marked him out as a shifty criminal.

All this detail made it perfectly plain that the production was not going to be another twee, sylvan version of the play. Hippolyta was deliberately portrayed as discontented in order to create an interesting twist.

Theseus complained about the time remaining until the wedding. Hippolyta contradicted him, but was evidently not relishing the prospect of becoming his bride. Theseus talked about wedding her “in another key” and showed her expensive presents including jewellery. She was again unimpressed. He tried to caress her but she spurned him.

Egeus brought in Hermia (Matti Houghton), who was soon joined by Lysander and Demetrius. Helena (Lucy Briggs-Owen) stood on the landing observing events.

Foppish

Hermia looked a little like Maxine Peake. She had her hair short and wore a combination of heavy boots with a pinafore dress. Helena was the complete opposite with her designer outfits and vague, foppish upper class accent.

Egeus produced the knacks and trifles with which Lysander had allegedly won Hermia away from Demetrius. There was an undercurrent of humour in his paternal officiousness.

Demetrius and Lysander stood downstage facing Theseus and sparred with each other over Hermia.

After confirming the death ultimatum to Hermia, Theseus led the others out. As he passed Hippolyta, he asked her “What cheer my love?” whereupon she spat at him. As Benedick might have said, “This looks not like a nuptial”. As Theseus and his party left, Helena descended the stairs and crossed the stage to exit in pursuit of Demetrius.

Hermia and Lysander planned to run away. The sentiment underlying their conversation here seemed too fey and flighty for the grim urban setting. Hermia, in particular, did not look like the kind of girl to ponder wistfully on the vagaries of love. Her line about the vows that men have broke, sounded too plaintiff for her wiry character. But this was a minor flaw in the mood of the piece that did not spoil the whole.

When Helena complained about Demetrius ignoring her, she came across as dippy, vague and insecure. Her neat white coat and well-groomed appearance meant that she seemed an alien in this louche demi-monde. After they had formed their various plans, the young people exited and someone turned the lights out leaving it in darkness.

At the start of the next scene (1.2) the repair men came out of the trap door into the dark room and set about making arrangements for their play using their torches for lighting. They messed around in the dark, scaring each other, until one of them turned the light switch back on.

Marc Wooton was indisposed that evening and the performance lost nothing from Bottom being played by his understudy, the excellent Felix Hayes, whom I had last seen as a mechanical in the Tobacco Factory’s Dream.

Bottom’s boastful attention-seeking attempt to take on all the parts in the play was fun to watch. He used a piece of air duct to represent the lion’s mane when roaring. Flute protested about playing Thisbe and paused saying “I have a beard… coming”: the hasty correction indicated that his obviously bare chin had made his initial statement untenable.

When Quince handed round the parts, most of the mechanicals got a thin wad of paper, but Bottom got a thick one, emphasising the size of his part. They made much of the “hold, or cut bowstrings” phrase, turning it into the motto of their group.

Forest

At the start of act two the set changed to represent the forest. The door rolled up to reveal cut-out trees. The women who had previously hung around the club entered through the hatch hissing like cats. When they tended on Hippolyta, sat in an armchair stage right, it became obvious that they were fairies of the forest.

The fairies responded to Puck (another understudy, Lanre Malaolu) as the multiple voices of one fairy character.

In a crucial sequence, they took off Hippolyta’s coat and dressed her as Titania. This onstage costume change indicated that the characters were linked, indeed one and the same person in different settings. Puck was now holding a broom, which had previously been part of warehouse club set.

Analogous with the Hippolyta/Titania doubling, Oberon was played by the same actor as Theseus. When the king of fairies entered, we could see that he was basically Theseus with his ponytail down and with a more regal sounding voice. However, unlike Hippolyta/Titania, there was no explicit transformation between the characters.

Titania rose to encounter him. Her voice and demeanour were also different, exuding an air of serenity and power.

At this moment the forest sequence began to look like poor, downtrodden Hippolyta’s wish-fulfilment fantasy in which she had become the equal of her husband. We were looking at an alternative world made specially for Hippolyta in which Theseus/Oberon was a familiar feature but not a fellow adventurer. And, of course, fantasies lack real substance and the world is unchanged when they end.

Bold and confident, Pippa Nixon’s portrayal of Titania was one of the best performances I have ever seen. Her delivery of the “forgeries of jealousy” line was particularly striking.

She demonstrated the story of the pregnant Indian woman using one of her fairies, who walked across the stage under a lattice light. A series of fake changelings deceived Oberon, who chased after each in turn finding them to be just bundles of clothes with no child inside.

After Titania and her fairies exited, Oberon instructed Puck to fetch the special flower. Puck put a girdle “round about” the earth using the Q1 version of the phrase.

Demetrius entered pursued by Helena. Oberon drew back next to some fairies who were standing by the cut-out trees in the doorway, waving their arms to look like trees as a form of stylised camouflage.

Spaniel

Helena’s gauche, posh gawkiness began to turn unstable. She got down on all fours like a spaniel to illustrate her devotion to Demetrius. But her beloved merely sat on the back of the sofa, took off a shoe, showed it to her as if playing with a dog and then cast it to one side, gesturing at her to fetch it.

She duly obliged. Helena crawled over to where it had fallen, picked it up in her mouth and brought it back to him. This occurred just in time for Demetrius to tell her “You do impeach your modesty too much”, which in context became a funny line.

Helena ran after Demetrius and as she passed by Oberon, he gestured with his hand and held her motionless, promising her that their roles would be reversed and she would eventually flee from Demetrius.

Puck brought in the flower. Oberon dispatched him to find the Athenian lover and apply the magic juice of the flower in his eyes.

Titania descended on a sofa (2.2) and was attended by fairies. Oberon placed the flower juice in her eyes as she slept. She was then hoisted up into the air.

Lysander and Hermia bedded down for the night having become exhausted. She had brought a sleeping bag and a toothbrush, which she used while giving Lysander the brush-off, telling him to settle further away from her.

Puck thought he had found the right Athenian and put juice in Lysander’s eyes, who helpfully rose up to facilitate the juicing.

Helena’s pursuit of Demetrius through the forest was staged using some stylised slow movements. They each clambered in slow-motion past fairies who acted as obstacles to their smooth progress.

She looked dishevelled with her hair frazzled. Her clothes were torn, tattered and smeared with mud as a result of the obstacles. This was quite a change from her previous tidy and finely dressed appearance.

After a brief exchange of words with Helena, Demetrius ran off and Helena broke down completely in her “ugly as a bear speech”. She sobbed and grizzled and shrieked in a brilliant tableau of a woman completely at the end of her tether. She spied Lysander and woke him in the hope he could be of help.

Helena’s wide-eyed look of complete shock in the face of Lysander’s effusive declarations of love was made funnier by the young man being completely oblivious to her muddied, bruised body and tattered hair. The staging here was perhaps one of the best realisations of the absurdity of this situation I have seen.

Lysander adopted a kind of Mr Loverman flirting with her, which again looked totally out of place. He danced suggestively and sang some of his lines, so that the inherent rhythm and rhyme of the text’s verse became tuneful.

Helena ran off with Lysander pursuing. Hermia woke from her disturbed dream and realised that her beloved had gone.

Salami

The mechanicals rehearsed their play (3.1) and Bottom, who had brought along a salami for his lunch, indulged in some incredible overacting. His sonorous voice boomed out as he bestrode the stage. He also indicated the finger gesture that Wall had to make to represent the cranny through which Pyramus and Thisbe were to meet. Flute had his hat pulled down firmly over his head.

Quince encouraged Flute to raise the pitch of his voice when acting as Thisbe. He did not get the point a first until Quince stuffed his top out to make him look female, after which he talked in an excessively high-pitched voice.

Puck’s transformation of Bottom saw him return with a hair piece made to look like ears, as if it were a natural extension of own hair; tin cans on the end of his hands for hooves and a salami swinging from his groin area. This looked brilliant, though possibly not what the teachers in charge of a party of schoolchildren were expecting.

The other mechanicals ran off leaving Bottom to sing. Titania’s sofa bower descended from above. She awoke and fell in love with him. As she knelt before Bottom and felt at his feet/hooves, her gaze descended to his salami on the word “beautiful”.

Her “Out of this wood do not desire to go” was both languorous and commanding. This also hinted at the wish-fulfilment dream quality of the forest sequences. A procession of the fairies led the group off the stage, with the changeling in a low-slung pram, after which came the interval.

Interval

The second half began with scene 3.2. Puck reported to Oberon on Titania’s enchantment with Bottom. Demetrius and Hermia appeared on the stage right walkway. She was now also bedraggled and mucky. Hermia railed at Demetrius, suspecting that he had killed Lysander. She stormed off leaving Demetrius to lie down on the sofa.

Oberon’s “What hast thou done?” got a big laugh, possibly because of the extreme understatement of the question in relation to the chaos unleashed.

Puck was sarcastic with his “Look how I go”s but Oberon chased him away so that Puck’s line about being swifter than a Tartar’s bow was said in panic as he ran off.

In an attempt to rectify the situation, Oberon put juice in Demetrius’ eyes, who helpfully sat up on the sofa to facilitate the dosing, then sank back down again. Here, as often in the production, chairs were flown in and suspended just above those being enchanted.

Helena tried to rebuff the pursuing Lysander but she fell back over the sofa onto Demetrius waking him up and causing him to fall in love with her.

An instant rivalry emerged between Demetrius and Lysander, who alternated between expressing devotion to Helena and mildly slapping each other. Demetrius adopted a kung fu posture when saying “lest to thy peril thou aby it dear” just before Hermia entered on stage right walkway.

Helena began to look even more saucer-eyed in amazement at what she now thought was a three-person conspiracy. Her unkempt appearance was now accentuated by foot dragging due to a broken heel. Helena began to argue with Hermia and during this time the men variously nodded in agreement with everything bad that Helena said about Hermia and otherwise doted on her.

At one point both just lounged around and looked in adoration at their beloved, each with a hand on their cheek, creating a simple but very pleasing image of their supernaturally induced affections. At another, their rivalry erupted into a pillow fight.

Hermia clung to Lysander’s leg as he tried to walk off the stage left walkway. She then railed against Helena who retaliated by calling Hermia a puppet. The enraged Hermia flew at Helena as the others tried to restrain her, eventually pinning her still struggling body down on the sofa.

Chaos

Demetrius punched the air in triumph when Helena said that she still had “a foolish heart” for him. The chaos ended with Helena running off on her long legs.

Oberon instructed Puck to lead the men astray and make them tired so that they would sleep. Chairs descended to create a forest of furniture through which lovers wended their way.

Puck arranged that each of the lovers collapsed and slept on a chair downstage. The other chairs were then cleared out of the way. The four chairs on which the lovers were slouched rose up. They clung to them until they stood upright, after which the chairs continued to rise beyond their reach. With the chairs gone, the young men and women collapsed into their respective couples, falling back to the ground in a neat cuddle puddle. Puck finished the job by juicing Lysander properly.

The armchair bower was flown in (4.1) so that Titania and Bottom could make themselves comfy and fall asleep. Oberon reversed the spell on her, while Puck simply removed the hair piece from Bottom’s head.

There followed what the production called the Transformation Dance. Oberon and Titania celebrated their reconciliation with a close dance in which they gradually dressed themselves and each other as Theseus and Hippolyta.

A striking component of this dance was a series of movements in which Titania bent over touching one foot with her hands, extending the other leg into the air. This allowed Oberon to place a shoe on each of her feet in turn. Their clothes were taken from the nearby sofa.

At this point it was not clear whether the end of the dream would just deposit Hippolyta back into her original world, making the dream a brief but happy escape from reality. But the reconciliation endured and the transformation affected both her and Theseus, implying that all of this had been much more than just a dream inside her head. The real world beyond the fantasy had been affected.

With the transformation complete they stood on stage as Theseus and Hippolyta. All the incongruous references to hounds were cut. The lovers woke up, and Demetrius stuttered slightly when trying to explain the night’s events.

Given the continuation of the dream’s effect in the waking world, Demetrius’ question as to whether the lovers were still dreaming seemed very pertinent.

Bonky

Bottom awoke and brought out the bawdy overtones of his speech describing “what I had”. Before settling on Bottom’s Dream as the title for the ballad about his adventures, he also suggested Donkey Bonky and Ass Matic, the first of which would have been an excellent alternative title for the play.

A brief scene followed (4.2) saw Bottom reunited with his fellow mechanicals. They went off to prepare play. When Flute said that a paramour was a thing of naught, he gestured with his hands, lewdly indicating an O shape.

The beginning of act five saw another interesting moment illuminating the relationship between the play’s dream world and its real world. Hippolyta said how strange the lovers’ account of their night in the forest sounded. Theseus dismissed it as madness.

Hippolyta, however, tellingly gave more credence to the reality of what they had related. Her speech was perfectly fitted to someone who had somehow shared in the dream, seen its reality and wanted to hint at the fact that it had some substance:

Hippolyta:

But all the story of the night told over,
And all their minds transfigured so together,
More witnesseth than fancy’s images,
And grows to something of great constancy;
But howsoever, strange and admirable.

Pippa Nixon spoke this speech as if her character possessed more knowledge than she was letting on, enhancing the feeling that Hippolyta had indeed experienced the world of Titania.

The actor playing Puck reappeared as Philostrate and read out the list of entertainments through a mic with Theseus replying to the suggestions.

The couples took up positions: Demetrius and Hermia lay on the stage right walkway, Theseus and Hippolyta likewise at the bottom of the centre stage steps, while Helena and Lysander rested on the stage left walkway.

The mechanicals’ stage was brought in through the roller door. It consisted of a narrow platform with a rudimentary curtain pulled across it. All their props and stage equipment had been improvised from work materials.

Trumpet

Snug blew on a primitive trumpet interrupting Quince’s prologue. Quince got annoyed and slapped him with the papers of his prepared speech scattering them on ground. In his panic he tried to remember the speech and this was the origin of the errors in his badly punctuated recitation.

As Quince introduced the characters, the actors trotted up and down and rotated in a circle so that we could see each of them in turn.

Pyramus wore armour made out of dustbin lids. Thisbe sported a wig and the bare framework of a dress. Man in the moon had a torch, a twig and a dog whose body was the extendable scissor arm of a shaving mirror on wheels. Lion’s mane consisted of wallpaper paste brushes arranged in a circle around his head. Wall dressed in grey with no actual wall-like features.

In the prologue, Pyramus and Thisbe each used a dagger to stab themselves in turn, but inadvertently hit Wall, who was standing behind them, in the stomach.

Wall came forward and extended his hands in front him making a scissor shape with his fingers to represent the two ends of the cranny through the masonry. Pyramus did some excellent sonorous overacting. He and Thisbe tried to get close to each other, but Wall fought to separate them by moving his hands, and by extension the wall surfaces, until they were far apart.

The couple eventually overcame this obstacle and kissed each other. The male mechanical actors reacted in shock at what they had done, but despite this were later revealed behind the curtain kissing each other enthusiastically.

Lion’s footsteps were marked by clip-clop noises. He played along with this by tapping his feet in a rhythm, so that the coconuts played a tune. Moonshine had problems getting his dog to behave and sit up straight, causing him to adjust it manually. He became frustrated at the comments from wedding party.

Pyramus overacted gloriously and died. After her multiple adieus, Thisbe collapsed dead with her face on Pyramus’ groin. The Bergomask dance involved two mechanicals Quo dancing with loud music, which fused the lights. This obliged them to go down the hatch in order to solve the problem, which got them neatly off stage to make room for Oberon and Puck’s finale to the play.

The enchantment of the house saw the theatre galleries lit with UV lights to match the stage lighting. The uniform illumination of stage and auditorium really made the theatre feel like one building, one of the key ambitions of the RST’s new thrust stage configuration. Confetti was thrown down from the upper galleries to create a magic atmosphere.

Puck’s concluding speech was very well spoken and paced and produced big rounds of applause.

Conclusions

It is good to see bold experiments work, and this particular take on the play worked very well.

Making the forest sequence a dream experienced by Hippolyta, but one which transformed her and the surrounding world, made for a very satisfying result.

The great thing about this production was that just where you thought the play would break by being wrenched into a new shape, the text would in places surprisingly accommodate the precise reading that was being mapped onto it.

I had wanted to see the production again in Stratford, but it had more or less sold out. So I’m now pinning my hopes on a London transfer. The staging did not involve too much complication and trickery, which means it could work well at the Roundhouse.

Fernando’s gotta have it

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.

Coffin

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?!?”

Stick

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.

Love letters

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.

Fireworks

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.

Wilfulness

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.

Yea

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.

Angry

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.

Part two

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.

Disappointed

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.

Abduction

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.

Accusations

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.

Forgiveness

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).

New change

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.

Conclusions

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.