By Jude Evans
Is it Shakespeare or not? The question surrounds this production of Cardenio, and is ultimately answered: yes and no. That is part of its beauty. It is fittingly termed ‘Shakespeare’s ‘Lost Play’ Re-imagined’, a re-imagining in which Greg Doran, assisted by Antonio Álamo, unites the work of several great writers, and the result is a lively and engaging production.
Doran turns to Lewis Theobald’s Double Falsehood, first performed in1727, for the framework of this ‘lost play’. Theobald claimed his play to be based on a manuscript of The History of Cardenio written by Shakespeare and Fletcher, now no longer extant. Cervantes’ Don Quixote provides the original source for the Cardenio story, and Doran uses this text, translated by Thomas Shelton in 1612, to fill in the holes in Theobald’s version. All of these writers works are brought together to form a strangely coherent whole.
Doran brings the ‘lost play’ to life in a wonderfully vibrant production. Niki Turner’s design and Tim Mitchell’s lighting evoke the Andalusian setting. The stage itself glows with the light of southern Spain, and the Fiesta and fireworks capture the free nature of the Spanish spirit. But there is also that Catholic sense of entrapment, suggested by solid railings and a gate at the back of the stage, and the repeated signs of ritual throughout. Striking flamenco music from Paul Englishby embodies the intense feelings of passion and pain inherent in the four lovers.
The four lovers are excellent. Lucy Briggs-Owen is the devoted Luscinda, bold in her defiance of her father and Fernando. Alex Hassel plays the roguish Fernando, a charmer capable of deceiving friend and lover. At times, there is a little unnecessary exaggeration of Fernando’s corrupt nature. Above all, it is Pippa Nixon and Oliver Rix who stand out as the wronged Dorotea and betrayed Cardenio; the scene between them in the wilderness is a delight to watch. Rix, in his professional stage debut, speaks and feels the language beautifully; he is one to watch in the future.
So where is Shakespeare in this ‘lost play’? The language lacks the richness we are so familiar with, especially in his greatest plays. Despite this, however, there are lines which are recognisably Shakespearean, and for the most part, the text flows in the style of Jacobean dramatic texts. Exotic atmospheres mixed with pastoral elements all feel familiar as to does the sense that the piece is bordering on tragedy but ultimately/ inevitably all will be resolved. There are other Shakespearean features too. The issue of rape reminds of Cymbeline and The Rape of Lucrece, and disguise and cross-dressing has echoes to many of his other plays.
The re-imagined Cardenio works superbly in Doran’s fresh and exciting production. What’s more it is good to see the Cervantes’ effect on English literature recognised. This is a great welcoming return to the Swan Theatre where this kind of work belongs.
Cardenio Runs from:
14th April – 6th October
for more information and to book tickets please click here