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A CurtainUp London Review
Punishment Without Revenge
The second play in the Spanish Golden Age Season has benefitted from a lovely new poetic translation from Meredith Oakes although what cannot be wrapped up in translation is the deep sexism of the play. What I also have problems with is the idea that your reputation is more important than what you have actually done, so it is ok to commit murder as long as no-one knows that you are a murderer. It's a morality I don't recognise as having any basis in justice or salvation in religion.
The Duke of Ferrara (William Hoyland) is a libertine, sexually promiscuous and unmarried. His only son Federico (Nick Barber) is illegitimate but the duke has adopted him as his heir. However the duke's subjects demand that he marry and provide them with a legitimate heir. The duke sends his son to collect the beautiful Cassandra, Duchess of Mantua (Frances McNamee) for their wedding but Federico and Cassandra fall in love. The duke goes off to fight a war for the Pope leaving Federico and Cassandra on their own and Federico ruling in his stead. The duke's niece Aurora (Katie Lightfoot) who is hoping to marry Federico will be the whistleblower. "The count was measuring Cassandra's red lips with his own," she reports.
Laurence Boswell's production in the small space of the Arcola is gripping. The costumes are beautiful. The excellent Simon Scardifeld as Federico's servant Batin delivers much of the humour without which this tragedy of honour would be rather heavy. There is a delightful moment when Batin asks Cassandra's companion Lucrecia (Annie Hemingway), "The one (Lucretia) from Rome?" "No the one from Mantua!" she replies. "That's a relief!" says Batin.
The performances from the women are excellent, especially Frances McNamee as the duchess and although there were times when I found Nick Barber's overhanging shirted Federico a tad self indulgent, it is a difficult part requiring intensely heightened emotion. William Hoyland's duke is thoroughly dislikeable and his outcome for his wife and son detestable, conniving and tragic. The duke says, "He who punishes in public loses his honour, not once but twice."
Should you wish to see more of Lope de Vega's work, there is plenty to choose from as 1800 plays have been attributed to him. That is provided you can find companies putting these plays on!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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