3rd June 2011
Maya Barcot – Nun
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Luscinda
Christopher Chilton – Priest
Liz Crowther – Duenna
Nicholas Day – Don Bernardo
Christopher Ettridge – Duke
Christopher Godwin – Don Camillo
Michael Grady-Hall – Shepherd
Alex Hassell – Fernando
Felix Hayes – Shepherd
Matti Houghton – Maid
Simeon Moore – Pedro
Harry Myers – Citizen
Pippa Nixon – Dorotea
Chike Okonkwo – Gerardo
Oliver Rix – Cardenio
Timothy Speyer – Master Shepherd
Singer: Javier Maçias
Luis Carrero Barquero- guitar
Nicholas Lee- guitar
James Jones – percussion
Director – Gregory Doran
Designer – Niki Turner
Music – Paul Englishby
Author: “Shakespeare’s ‘Lost Play’ Re-imagined’”
Messrs Fletcher, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Shelton, Theobald and Doran
Lost Shakespeare plays have fascinated me since performing in The Yorkshire Tragedy in Hull in 1967. I was one of the comic rustic servants, and only the line “Slid, I hear Sam” sticks in my mind, even if at the time it was said that Shakespeare had written the funny bits, but probably nothing else.
As recounted elsewhere, we researched lost Shakespeare plays before writing the ELT video Double Identity, where the fictional lost play Falcon of Malta is discovered in Oxford and sets off the plot. From that research I knew that The History of Cardenio was a play performed in 1613 by The King’s Men at court twice (therefore, not on the classic platform stage), and that it was registered for publication in 1653 as ‘by Mr Fletcher and Shakespeare.’ A play called Double Falsehood, or The Distrest Lovers was performed in 1727, claiming to be the lost Shakespeare play. It was put on by Lewis Theobald, who claimed he had ‘adapted and revised’ it from a manuscript by Shakespeare. The original manuscript upon which he based his adaptation was kept at Covent Garden Playhouse, which burnt down in 1808, destroying the library of scripts.
The timeline in the RSC programme adds that Double Falsehood was performed in 1781 and 1793 in Bath, laughed off the stage in London in 1847, and there were amateur attempts in 1955. The story now goes that Double Falsehood was Cardenio, which had been taken from Don Quixote, but that it was derided because the plot failed to hang together. It didn’t hang together because several pages had been lost. The new production (or first production) mends the holes by adding bits from the Thomas Shelton 1612 translation of Don Quixote (which is the one Fletcher and Shakespeare would have read) where needed, as well as “some” new material. Fine, but “my dad” stands out like a sore thumb in the script!
The most the RSC say is that it is “Shakespeare’s Lost Play Re-imagined”. Reviews have suggested that the dramatic movement is more Fletcher and there don’t seem to be many rolling memorable Shakesperean lines. Cast that off. It’s the reason we went to Stratford and took in Cardenio, The City Madam and Macbeth. We saw it the day after The City Madam, with most of the same cast in both the plays. The same team are doingMidsummer Night’s Dream from late July, and we have tickets.
Spain is a new setting for Shakespeare. The histories are in England and France, Macbeth is ‘The Scottish Play’ to every critic with a pretension to follow backstage superstition, most of the comedies are in the Duchal states of fragmented Italy, and then you have classical settings for the Roman plays, Athens for Midsummer Night’s Dream and France for All’s Well That Ends Well. In his lifetime, Spain was, in 1066 and All That terms, the undisputed “top country” in the world. With its inquisition, it was also England’s bitter enemy. The armada victory took place in Shakespeare’s early career. There had been a degree of rapprochement around 1605, and Don Quixote was known in England, with an English translation in 1612. Cardenio, based on an episode in the book, was written in 1612 or early 1613. At least three other contemporary playwrights tried a similar story from the Cardenio passages in Cervantes.
This production goes to town on the Spanishness of the play, in costume, set and music. The musical accompaniment with singer, guitars and percussion punches home the Spanish feel throughout.
The first thing to be said, is that the result of this supergroup collaborative effort spanning five centuries, is a rattling good play. Our heroine, Luscinda, lives behind iron gates, constantly attended by a scary duenna , a role where Liz Crowther shows how you can get all the laughs by reactive acting without having a single line. Lucy Briggs-Owen as Luscinda is marvellous, going through the full gamut of contemporary late teen exaggerated gestures and facial expressions while reacting to and performing 500 year old lines.
Cardenio and Luscinda
Briefly, Cardenio loves Luscinda. The rakish Fernando is second son of the Duke. He lusts after Dorothea, a humble farmer’s daughter. He woos her in the classic Romeo & Juliet balcony scene. Only he has three accompanying guitarists who he can ask to play softer or louder to hilarious effect. Fernando promises to marry Dorothea, and on the pretence that they are married by clasp of hand (legal then), seduces her. Fernando (the villain and central figure) is a great character, and whether Shakespeare wrote him or not, he is worthy of inclusion in the canon. The modern aspect that catches the attention is the issue of consent versus rape. It’s an issue exercising judges and ageing Conservative justice ministers as the play is running too. Did Fernando rape Dorothea or not?
Fernando and Dorothea
Tired of poor Dorothea at once after his conquest, he goes after Luscinda, using his wealth and position to persuade her father to favour him over Cardenio. She is forced into marriage but faints at the ceremony having done something to herself with the dagger concealed in her skirt that “beats him to it”. Let’s not investigate that one too closely. She retreats to a nunnery in secret.
The second half is one of those leaps into pastoral that Shakespeare was fond of. The railings are gone. We’re amongst the shepherds, with the wronged Dorothea disguised as a boy. The shepherds are nymphless. When she’s discovered, she escapes being raped by a shepherd by seconds. Cardenio is hanging out in the pastoral setting, now near mad with grief. Cardenio and Dorothea have both been wronged by Fernando, and unite against him.
Pedro, Fernando’s serious and worthy older brother, is his critic throughout. But he agrees to help abduct Luscinda from the nunnery where she’s hiding out. They do this with the full tall pointed hat and mask Ku Klux Klan gear worn by the inquisition, and carry her off forced into a coffin. Pedro solves everything by getting the whole lot together in an inn, with the respective fathers. There is one of the best fist fights I’ve seen on stage between Cardenio and Fernando. Dorothea declares she still loves Fernando, and they are reunited. Cardenio gets Luscinda back.
Fernando grabs Luscinda against her will
The whole ends with a flamenco dance. When I say the entire cast carry this off credibly, I will add that I saw the original early 80s flamenco Carmen with Antonia Gardes dancing, and Paco de Lucia on guitar in Madrid. And this cast carry their short Flamenco piece off superbly rather than credibly. It’s a great theatrical ending.
The play is full of high speed movement, fully utilising the stage at the Swan, with its entrances at every corner, which means characters can enter at a run as others are leaving. The reactive acting of the whole cast lifts every scene. Christopher Godwin, as Don Camillo, gets gales of laughter in the last scene, with those mundane interjections that fall aside in most productions. Oliver Rix as the guileless Adamic innocent is perfectly cast. The funny bits are funny. The dramatic bits are dramatic. Of the three plays in three days, Cardenio was the production we enjoyed most. Double Falsehood joined the Arden complete Shakespeare series in 2010. I can see this text of Cardenio being revived many times.