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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Double Falsehood

I had one of those rare pleasures in life. I saw a new Shakespeare play tonight, Double Falsehood or The Distrest Lovers. The production was played at the Union Theater on Union Street in Southwark, about a three minute walk from The Globe.

The theater is under a trestle and we know that because we could hear, not feel, the trains pass by above. Not a distraction like the planes and other airborne machines above The Globe. The Union Theater is a black box that holds about 55 people. 30 in three rows of ten on the far side of the stage and five rows of five on the near side. To the right is backstage behind a curtain. The narrowness of the near audience is to allow the players two more ways of entering the stage area which is probably 20 feet by 15 feet, in addition to the one directly from the black curtain.

Tonight was the opening performance and it started on time, half seven. The performance was supported by the Arden Shakespeare, though I read the Theobold version from Google books. I had read the play twice in the past month, so as to become familiar with it. The performance was true to the text and in 18th Century costume. The cast was a mix of old hands on stage and newbies. One needed a program to know the difference. It was well played by all.

I was particularly struck by the interchange of the two fathers, Don Bernard and Camillo, in the First Act about Honor and Time. The use of Honor was visited by Falstaff the other night as a foil to Hector's magnificent account of Honor in Troilus and Cessida. Camillo's account is closer to Hector's. In addition we were treated by a monosyllabic and double syllabic use of the word Time from these two men. It reminded me of John Barton's discussion of how Time is used by Shakespeare and how is should be pronounced both ways depending upon the circumstance. The production added something, at least in my Theobold version. Since I haven't seen the Arden issue, I can't be sure it is an addition. Two gentlemen dressed as horses, appropriately enough, since The Duke is concerned with his younger son's sudden interest in horses, parade out between some scenes, an older man, perhaps, Time, as in Winter's Tale perhaps portending to be Shakespeare and a younger man a foil, a jack, a very nave. The older man would recite certain famous lines from other plays while the younger would finish them. He began with "All the world's a stage." The quoted lines were apt to the play we were watching. Now its purpose is unknown, except to provide some mild entertainment at particularly difficult times in the play to allow the players time to change from one costume to another. It was an entertaining interjection and did nothing to injure the performance, only to enhance it.

The costuming was well done, which begs the question why not the makeup. The players were plain, themselves. It was difficult to believe that Camillo was going to die soon as he railed because he was a large, healthy Rugby kind of man who wasn't dying too soon unless he was hit by a truck because he would destroy any car that hit him. Makeup would have helped the two fathers to help us, in spite of the concept of suspending disbelief. Couldn't be done just as it was hard to believe he was the father of a woman his own age. He was one of the strongest players on stage and delivered his lines smartly. I also found Henriquez, the younger son of the Duke to be a perfect cad and an evilly wayward boy.

The play has such obvious references to other Shakespeare works, like the opening to King Lear. The disguise and running to the woods as in As You Like It. The comedy in the woods like Midsummer Nights Dream. I felt honored to see such a fine performance by this little troupe and hope it all the success. I wonder why it is only playing for 4 nights.

The last time I was so blessed to see a premier performance of a new Shakespeare play was Two Noble Kinsman in Stratford in 1986. Bravo to the cast and to the director Barrie Addenbrooke who did admirably, kept it true, and had the pleasure of being the first to direct this new play since 1728. Bravissimo.

From Duncan Lynskey

I was also at the Double Falsehood premiere last night. The two men with the hobby horses were strictly speaking the characters Lopez and Fabian, but the production took their lines and mixed them up with random Shakespeare quotes and presented them as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. This is a nod to the origins of the story behind Double Falsehood in the original Shakespeare/Fletcher play "Cardenio" which is taken from Cervantes' "Don Quixote".

You might not have realised but the editor of the Arden Edition, Brean Hammond was there that night in the centre of the front row facing the entrance door, as was the general editor of the Arden Shakespeare Richard Proudfoot, as well as the mayor of Southwark and the theatre director Janet Suzman!

Duncan Lynskey

He added this in a second communication and in response to my query about Double Falsehood being performed at the Swan when it reopens.

As for the Swan reopening, Greg Doran of the RSC has been working on reconstructing Cardenio by filling in scenes assumed to be missing from Double Falsehood. This has been done before, but he plans to work with a Spanish writer so that it will be in English and Spanish. The RSC has also workshopped this at the University of Michigan:

I spoke to someone from the University of Warwick who has been working on related matters with Greg Doran and he said that The Two Noble Kinsmen might also be part of the Swan reopening.

In fact, Brean Hammond's Double Falsehood is so hot off the press that he discusses the forthcoming RSC Cardenio on page 131 of the book. As you haven't got it with you in Scotland I'll include the relevant paragraph below:

"As I write this, I am learning from the Shakespearean scholar Jonathan Bate and Gregory Doran, Chief Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, about plans to workshop a reconstruction of Cardenio in association with the Almagro Festival. It is hoped that this will be an Anglo-Spanish collaboration and will be a mix of Cervantes, Shelton and Theobold under the
title of Cardenio... [footnote] 'It will be a mix of Theobald, Shelton and Cervantes, and will definitely include the Johnson songs (one of Michael Wood's best bits of work, that). It'll be worked up with Spanish as well as British actors, in an attempt to re-Spanishize the feel of Shelton and Theobald' (Gregory Doran, private communication, 23 July 2007)"

From Bernard Richards:
Saw your blog about Double Falsehood. I didn't see the production. My production of Cardenio was put on at Queens' College, Cambridge in March 2009. Unfortunately the production team did not get their act together on publicity, and it disappeared without trace. It was also staged at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009. It has six new scenes written by me. There is a photo from my production in Brean Hammond's Arden edition (miscaptioned alas). It was in 17th century dress, and sounds as if it was 'straighter' than the production you saw. There is an edition of my play. £5 including postage (apply to me e-mail address I am hoping to have it on sale at the RSC bookshop. It does not sound as if purists are going to enjoy Greg Doran's production. I was very lucky in my production to have some excellent actors. Henriquez and Violante were paticularly good. Easily up to professional standard. It's a pity it did not have more of an impact. I am reviewing the Arden edition in the forthcoming Essays in Criticism.
best wishes, Bernard Richards

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