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Theatre review: Double Falsehood 
4th-Feb-2011 11:03 pm
Double Falsehood's had a bit of a renaissance in the last year. Lewis Theobald's play which claims to be Shakespeare and Fletcher's lost Cardenio has spent a couple of hundred years being ignored as a bit of an embarrassment but in 2010 it got a lot of publicity for the Arden Shakespeare when they added it to the Complete Works, soon after which I saw an amateur production at the Union Theatre. Six months later the same theatre hosts the first professional production in centuries, directed by Phil Willmott. He and the well-known choreographer Javier de Frutos who's moonlighting as designer have given it a 1950s twist and set part of the action in a monastery.

Duke's son Henrique (Adam Redmore) commits the double falsehood of the title, wronging two women - Violante (Jessie Lilley,) whom he rapes, and Leonora (Emily Plumtree,) whom he tries to steal from his friend Julio and marry against her will. There's a couple of familiar faces in the cast, with musical theatre stalwart Gabriel Vick as Julio, and Richard "Captain Yates from Pertwee Era Doctor Who" Franklin as the Duke and most of the cast are decent, with Vick, Plumtree and Lilley being particularly good. I could have done without Stephen Boswell's wildly overacted Camillo though, and while Redmore's OK, he can be a bit panto villain and seems overstretched in such a crucial role. As Leonora's mother, Su Douglas seems to start off under the impression that she's playing Lady Bracknell but she settles down soon enough. Willmott's production is fast-paced and clear, making the best of the play's virtues and the story fair rattles along. I also liked the utter refusal to accept the final scene as being an unequivocal happy ending, Henrique's speech of contrition being presented as utterly insincere.

Seeing a well-presented professional production makes it easier to judge both the production and the play itself, and whatever else it may be Double Falsehood is an entertaining enough melodrama. Is it Shakespeare's? Probably not (I still want to know where Theobald's supposed three prompt copies got to) and Willmott in his programme notes is also sceptical. I don't know enough, especially about the Fletcher collaborations, to comment on the language but although thematically it's a spot-on match for his later plays, structurally it doesn't feel right. Not only are there less storylines being juggled, they're not juggled as well. Even though there's essentially just the two strands of Henrique's oath-breaking, major characters disappear from the stage for absolute ages until you've almost forgotten they exist. Violante especially doesn't show up for the first time until several scenes in, then her entire storyline is set up over a long period during which Leonora, in her turn, gets sidelined; Violante then disappears again for many scenes. There's things that seem authentic (a father being told, falsely, that his son is dead and being allowed to grieve simply to drag the denouement out a bit longer is very Shakesperean) but as such could be the work of a noted expert (which Theobald was) who knew which boxes to tick. Again I loved the way the traditional motif of a woman disguising herself as a boy is subverted when it instantly fools no-one, but it's the sort of twist you might put into a spoof. So the jury's out but while not a lost Hamlet it's entertaining enough and worth catching while you can because once everyone's forgotten the most recent controversy over its provenance I suspect Double Falsehood will, rightly or wrongly, spend some more time gathering dust.

Double Falsehood by Lewis Theobald, based on Cardenio by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, is booking until the 12th of February at the Union Theatre.
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