Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Spanish Tragedy - Arcola Theatre, London

The Spanish Tragedy
Writer: Thomas Kyd
Director: Mitchell Moreno
Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Suited and booted in dynamic Paul Smith tailoring this is a very English Spanish Tragedy; although even in the face of such stiff upper-lip gentility, it does pack a hefty emotional punch at its gory end. But whilst director Mitchell Moreno’s slick, sharp and smart aesthetic never bores, this is a production which does essentially lack a central heart.

Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy established a new genre in English theatre of the revenge play and it is nothing if not an abject tale in getting one’s own back. The Viceroy of Portugal has rebelled against Spanish rule and battle has taken place in which the Portuguese are defeated and their leader, the Viceroy's son Balthazar, has been captured. During the battle a Spanish officer, Andrea, has been killed by none other than Balthazar and the slain soldier’s love and Duke’s daughter, Belimperia, plots her revenge with her new beaux Horatio. When Horatio is also brutally murdered his father, Hieronimo, and Belimperia devise a way to seek vengeance once and for all on Balthazar and his manipulator the corrupt Lorenzo. All the while Andrea’s ghost and ‘Revenge’ itself, here personified by a little girl, watch on with a grimly inevitable finality.

Sprung like a stylish and well oiled machine Moreno’s direction is so tight it stretches across the depth of emotion potentially present in these highly strung characters like a piece of designer cellophane. This sadly leaves one feeling slightly distanced from the torrent of emotions presented in Kyd’s melodramatic text. Diagonals and clear cut restoration styling make for some iconic stage imagery but the whole thing feels a bit bloodless. In this modern setting of shirt and trouser androgyny the passion at play here is somewhat cooled with both sexes bristling under clean cut lines which both accentuate their status and but dampen their individual intensity. Charlie Covell’s Belimperia is dressed as an impishly boyish girl who marches around with the directness of any man making her feminine fury seem a little flat. Even in the face of this however Covell turns in a strong performance with her rich velvet tones centring her in a more sensual and womanly vein at points.

But revenge is a dish best served cold here and accordingly whilst there are some moments of bawdy joy in the consummate and hilarious puppetry of the first ‘play-within-a-play’, it is the cold hearted science of our heroes’ final revenge that is magnificent. Dominic Rowan as Hieronimo, who struggles to be truly convincing throughout the earlier stages of this production, really finds his feet here as he orchestrates the last act of vengeance in a piece of multi-media staging which is quite breathtaking and momentarily heartbreaking.

A little less style and a little more depth of feeling may have aided this tragedy to a more powerful effect, but it is impossible to ignore that this is a dynamic production of a bloodcurdling tale that moves a pretty pace; indeed for the end alone, it is definitely worth a watch.

Runs until 14th Nov
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