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A CurtainUp London Review
the Dog in the Manger
by Lizzie Loveridge
Second in the the Spanish Golden Age plays that the Royal Shakespeare Company is staging at the Playhouse, is Lope de Vega's The Dog in the Manger. Lope de Vega (1562 - 1635) was a prolific Spanish playwright with a fascinating life which itself would make an epic novel. Born into a family of craftsmen but orphaned at an early age, he went to university, was secretary to the Dukes of Alba and Sessa and sailed with the Spanish Armada against England in 1588. According to sources, Lope was a poet, a keen gardener, the husband of two wives and the father of from six to fourteen children. He later joined the priesthood and the Inquisition. He wrote over 900 plays, 400 of which are still in existence. When he died, his state funeral lasted nine days. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Many of Lope's themes were picked up by his countryman, Caldéron de la Barca (born 1600), who in turn was inspired later French playwrights. Both Calderon and Lope were rediscovered by the German Romantic movement in the nineteenth century.
In the Dog in the Manger Lope de Vega concerns himself with class and birth. Diana Countess of Belflor (Rebecca Johnson) has many suitors of her own class but rejects all of them. When one of her ladies in waiting Marcela (Claire Cox) is courted by the Countess' secretary Teodoro (Joseph Millson), Diana becomes obsessively jealous. She is faced with a choice either to embark on a socially unacceptable liaison with her secretary or to sublimate her passionate desire. Marcela, facing competition from her employer pursues Diana's servant Fabio (Joseph Chance) in another power play of love, envy, jealousy and honour. The Dog in the Manger treads a line between high tragedy and low comedy and both David Johnston's modern translation and Laurence Boswell's production accentuate the farcical aspect of human emotions.
John Ramm has probably the best cameo as the most ridiculous of Diana's suitors, the Marquis Ricardo. To accompany his flowery declaration of love to Diana, Ricardo's servant Celio (Julius d'Silva) conjures increasingly large floral tributes from under his cloak, a flourishing coup de theatre, an elaborate underlining of the over flowery declaration. Rebecca Johnson is delightful as the beautiful, hot-cold Diana, with her confusion of mixed messages. Claire Cox as Marcela, her victim, bristles with hurt pride but is of course a pawn in this game. Joseph Millson's Teodoro is torn, flattered and tempted by the attention of his employer and conveys the predicament well. Simon Trinder again takes centre stage with the comic role of Teodoro's servant Tristan and is the darling of the crowd when he pretends to be a merchant with a Liverpudlian accent, although I found the denouement rather drags out contributing to the play's lengthy three hours. The lighting effects on the burnished stage are exciting and atmospheric.
It is interesting that although we no longer live in the sort of intensely socially stratified society that was seventeenth century Spain, we are still fascinated by liaisons between the rich and their servants. I thought of another Diana and her predicament in making confidants of those employed by her. But for all the tragedy of misplaced affection, the emphasis of Laurence Boswell's production of The Dog in the Manger is to wittily sting and sparkle like the best of bitter sweet comedy.
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Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
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