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Planet Theatre Productions Ltd presents

The Spanish Tragedy



By Thomas Kyd

Adapted by Adrian Brown

Director:  Adrian Brown

Rose Theatre, Bankside

7 - 26 September 2010








A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

I knew exactly where to find The Rose Theatre as I was working across the road when its remains were discovered in 1988/9 but my excitement turned to dismay when I discovered that it's still a dank, wet hole in the ground awaiting development funding beneath the swanky 'Rose Court', which as I remember, grew like a beanstalk overnight, unstoppable.  

The stage for The Spanish Tragedy is on a small, modern platform built just above the original site with three rows of seating on the same level. At first, the audience peered into the darkness over the steel balcony rail as it seemed we were on a viewing deck waiting for the action to emerge from the gloom below, but the play was performed right in front of us, in the small space between us and the excavated remains of The Rose.
Shakespeare has come to personify Renaissance London, with works which were hugely popular at the time by Kyd, Marlowe and Middleton completely neglected today, so this is a very rare opportunity to see The Spanish Tragedy. It was put on at The Rose in 1587, possibly with Shakespeare in the cast, and many elements of the play are echoed in his work such as the play-within-a-play motif which forces the truth out in Hamlet and indeed Hieronimo's hesitation, so similar to Hamlet's failure to act, but there are so many other Shakespeare plays with similar elements it would be tedious to list them all. The question is rather, why are they put on and not this?

This production is really admirable for allowing this question to be explored properly. The cast were experienced, serious and professional in their approach to this the seminal 'revenge' drama with all the elements of comedy and tragedy which make London Renaissance theatre so entertaining. The costumes and settings by Becky Gunstone were traditional as befits this venue. The action was held together by the narration of the character, Revenge, played by Sean Garvey, a melodramatic figure emerging from dry ice in mask and cape with a staff mounted by a skull to remind us of the high body count in this play.

We are in the court of Spain. The doomed lovers Horatio (Barra Collins) and Bel-Imperia (Rosy Langlands) are plotted against by the villain and Prince of Spain, Lorenzo (Richard Gee). Horatio's murder is avenged, finally, by his father Hieronimo (Hayward Morse) while the hapless Prince Balthazar of Portugal (Nic Choulman) and several others fall foul of Lorenzo's ruthless ambition. This play is a kind of Dallas or Dynasty type soap opera with Tarantino at the helm. It obviously drew the crowds for the same reason people have been going to the theatre since Sophocles put on Oedipus. If forced to answer the question, why are Shakespeare's plays put on and not plays like this?  I would say Shakespeare took the same elements available to all Renaissance dramatists and took them to a new level, with more penetrating insights into the human condition than anyone else has managed, before or since.

For me, the actor who really captured the crackling menace needed for this revenge play was Rosy Langlands as Bel-Imperia. The production played it straight, in the sense that we were transported back to Renaissance London for the evening but I felt Bel-Imperia's outrage at having little control over her own destiny in the Spanish Court and understood her eagerness to participate in the revenge plot, whatever that might cost her.

The play-within-a-play was styled as amateur dramatics, formally stagey with lots of deliberate mistakes, drawing laughs from the audience so that the final denouement was all the more shocking. However, there were fluffed lines throughout which weren't deliberate, rhyming couplets notwithstanding and this was at times distracting. This is a small complaint though about what was, on the whole, a worthy performance, well worth seeing.



The Rose Theatre
 Bankside, 56 Park Street, London SE1 9AS
7th -26th September: 7:30pm (Sunday 12th and 26th at 3:00pm, Sunday 19th at 7:30pm
Tickets £12.00 / £10.00 concessions
Box Office: 020 7261 9565




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