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Monday, 25 April 2011

Anna Laycock reviews Cardenio - Shakespeare's 'Lost Play' Re-imagined

Shakespeare’s ‘Lost Play’ re-imagined
Directed by Gregory Doran
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Wednesday 20th April 2011

Whether Shakespeare really wrote a play about “Cardenio” or not, we will never know. However, in my opinion, the authorship of the play does not matter, Greg Doran’s re-imagining of “Cardenio” allows the play to be excellent in its own right and not because of any links it may have to the Bard.

“Cardenio” is the result of literary archaeology from the RSC. In 1772, Lewis Theobald claimed to have obtained three manuscripts of an unnamed play by Shakespeare which he edited and published under the name of “Double Falsehood”. “Double Falsehood” has the plot of the Cardenio episode in “Don Quixote”. Using both “Double Falsehood”, “Don Quixote” and other sources Doran has managed to re-imagine the story for a modern audience to enjoy.

From the beginning the audience are transported into the world of sixteenth century Spain, as we find ourselves looking inside a domineering Catholic monastery. Religion is a prevalent motif throughout the play, and appears a controlling force, with characters questioning and blaming God for what happens to them. However, the lustful behaviour of the leads, Cardenio and especially Fernando, along with the pagan villagers and Spanish flamenco style music provide a contrast to the formalities and rules of Catholicism.

Much like a Shakespearean comedy, the play centres around two couples kept apart from their lovers due to disapproval from their families. Cardenio is in love with Luscinda, but her father insists that her father give his approval before the relationship continues. On the other hand, Fernando falls in love with Dorotea, a farmer’s daughter, thus his love threatens his reputation and status as the son of a Duke. The play has many very funny moments, yet, the tone changes throughout the piece and comes close to tragic just before the interval before reviving itself for the denouement where confusions are resolved and the couples reconciled reminiscent to such comedies as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Much Ado about Nothing”.

The new fiftieth birthday season ensemble is a group of very strong performers, not only can they act but also in “Cardenio” we witness members singing and dancing. The four leads particularly stand out; Oliver Rix portrays the charming Cardenio descend into madness after losing his lover with flair and whereas Alex Hassel may look similar to Rix in looks but his character, Fernando, is clearly the mischievous antagonist of the play. Pippa Nixon as Dorotea displays the subtle insecurity of the possessed and abandoned farmer’s daughter perfectly in the first half before gaining confidence and self-assurance towards the end. Furthermore, Lucy Briggs-Owen highlights both the innocence and strength in Luscinda’s character.

The motto “the show must go on” came into effect during the performance when the fire alarm went off about forty minutes into the first act and the audience, staff and cast members all evacuated outside the building. It might be said the alarm is the fault of Shakespeare’s said-to-be cursed play, Macbeth, which was being performed next door in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, although luckily the curse did little to affect the performance as it was a false alarm and the show continued as if nothing had happened.

Doran’s "Cardenio" is a highly joyful experience of theatre. For once all credit must be given to Doran, the ensemble and the team of design, music, lighting, sound, and movement directors for the creation of Cardenio rather than William Shakespeare.

Anna Laycock, age 19

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