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Theatre review: Cardenio 
16th-Jul-2011 10:05 pm
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My second visit to the reopened RSC Stratford building and I still haven't been into the new RST - or seen any Shakespeare there for that matter. Instead of simply jumping on the Double Falsehood bandwagon the RSC have gone one step further and got Gregory Doran to use it as the basis for a new "re-imagining" of Shakespeare and Fletcher's lost Cardenio. Using the original Cervantes story as well as the Theobald version, the most notable difference (apart from changing the names back to those in Don Quixote¹) is the addition of the scene where Fernando seduces Dorotea. (In Double Falsehood the equivalent character returns to the stage pondering if what he's just done constitutes rape; here, prior to this speech Doran lets us see him [falsely] promise to marry her if she has sex with him, allowing the audience their own opinion on the matter.) It leaves it much more open to an interpretation that Dorotea is at least to some extent interested in him, making the eventual happy ending slightly less ambiguous.

As a result Doran's production (themed around the original story's 16th/17th Century Spain, complete with flamenco-flavoured jig) captures more accurately the feel of one of Shakespeare's late tragicomedies. The Winter's Tale came to mind, what with the time elapsing over the interval (though here it's months that pass, not years.) Oliver Rix is ridiculously handsome -

but struggles to make his Cardenio stand out, especially against Alex Hassell's charismatic villain of a Fernando. Rix is better at holding the stage once Cardenio has gone audience-attackingly mad in the woods, although I may just be saying that 'cause he gets his tits out. (On the other hand he's got a hideous wig on at the time so swings and roundabouts.)

Hassell is the undoubted star though - too much so perhaps, his twinkly-eyed villain gets a lot of laughs but I felt as if this meant he was being excused a lot of his worst behaviour. For the female leads, Pippa Nixon's intense Dorotea is well-matched by Lucy Briggs-Owen's wide-eyed, funny Luscinda, the latter role not getting overshadowed like it usually does in Theobald's play. It's still not Shakespeare or even quite Fletcher but this reconstructed text makes for a more staisfying experience than Double Falsehood, and I wouldn't be surprised if it replaces it the next time this Shakespearean curiosity comes back into fashion.

Cardenio adapted by Gregory Doran from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Cardenio by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, and Double Falsehood by Lewis Theobald is in repertory until the 6th of October at the Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.

¹so the action now takes place in the town of Almodóvar; I was desperately disappointed to find out it's not entirely populated by pre-op transsexuals, *fabulous* ageing actresses and Gael García Bernal.
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