Monday, 18 April 2011

Will goes to Spain...

A strange and rather wonderful experience awaits Bard buffs at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon: a Shakespeare play where you've no idea how it's going to end.

OK , for Shakespeare read 'Shakespeare'. This is an intriguing 're-imagining' of the celebrated 'lost play' Cardenio, its existence a matter of historical fact, but which never made it in to 1623 First Folio edition of the 'complete works', seemingly lost for ever.

Fast forward to 1727 and the premiere of The Double Falsehood, a crowd-pleaser from long-forgotten playwright Lewis Theobald, who (savvy marketer) claimed his work was based on original manuscripts of Cardenio (in his possession), a collaboration between Jacobean giants John Fletcher and William Shakespeare.

Oh and - add another name - the plot is drawn from Cervantes' Don Quixote, which Shakespeare could have read in Thomas Shelton's 1612 translation.

Scholars seem to agree that Theobald's text has stylistic echoes of both Shakespeare and Fletcher.

Still with me? I know, you'd be forgiven for guessing that the show on offer in Stratford must be a dryer-than-dust experiment in academic re-construction.


Wisely acknowledging the impossibility of recreating the 'play behind the play', director Greg Doran has approached Theobald's text with a light touch and with an imagination drenched in years of Bard-related empathy as both an actor and a director.

The result is a play that stands robustly on its own feet, providing a richly entertaining evening.

Doran and his production team clearly relish the opportunities of the Spanish setting, wreathing the action in luscious chiaroscuro and wafting it along on clouds of incense, intercut with languorous guitar music.

Good news, too, for Bardphobics: the plot is an easy-to-follow tale of love and friendship betrayed. The villain of the piece being the outrageously dreadful Don Fernando, all posturing, posing and perfect pectorals. The eponymous hero is one of his three victims.

What with nuns, a fiesta, a spunky cross-dressing heroine, the old abduction-via-coffin ruse, full-on flamenco (plus a wee bit of auto-flagellation), this is a show with something for everyone, performed with panache by a Rolls Royce cast.

For me, the ending raised some worrying questions - as to the forgiveness granted to the truly appalling Fernando.

That said, a must-see and a terrific opening to the RSC's 50th anniversary season.

And here's what the DT's Charles Spencer had to say.

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