But how do you stage Restoration tragedy? Baroque acting was formal and stereotyped, with a range of set gestures adapted to each emotion and a hierarchy of stage positions. A deadly serious modern naturalistic production simply makes these old plays sound bombastic. Perhaps irony, understatement, ambivalence are the only solutions.
In making this work the centrepiece of their festival, the Scottish Early Music Consort seemed determined to rubbish it for good and all. The first impression was one of ranting, flailing actors and music of unrelieved stiffness and insipidity. As the performance went on, you saw that this was a bit unjust. The two orchestras - the Moscow Academy of Ancient Music and the SEMC themselves - played demurely and tastefully, and the director, Kate Brown, made the stage look busy and colourful in spite of what was evidently a minimal budget.
She had also put together a credible edition of this work in which the order of musical events is difficult to sort out.
The best-known item, 'I attempt from love's sickness', fitted better at the beginning of the so- called 'cave scene' than in its habitual place later on. The actors were not called on to sing their own songs, which were provided by musical counterparts. There were some useful voices, notably the high, sweet tenor of Stuart Patterson, and one singing actor - David Thomas as the sorcerer Ismeron - although he had no more than a stage voice.
There were other delights. The dancer Paolo Pagni had mastered the lilting, swaying style of Baroque dance, and it was wonderful to hear the true clarino register of the natural trumpet, played with unavoidable stumbles by Christopher Dicken.
The production never had a chance, however. Juliet Cadzow, in the title part, had totally misjudged the piece. From the first blood-curdling howl, she was over the top and down the other side, screaming and waving her arms in an unwatchable frenzy. The other actors were obliged to play up to her - you could see it embarrassed them to some extent - and the drama, pitiful dross as it is, sank without trace.
No matter (you might have thought), we had the marvellous incidental music, mostly by Henry Purcell with a sprinkling of his brother Daniel. But here, the problem lay with the conducting of Gregory Squire, which was square, leaden, poking and prodding so that the dance numbers sounded mechanical and the subtle, oblique, chromatic slow movements were merely turgid.
You could hear the breath rhythms of the singers trying to break out of the strait-jacket of the beat, lagging always a little behind the unyielding chime of the
The result was to portray the work as a stream of absurd pomposity laced here and there with bits of childish humour - think of the trio of snakes, 'What flattering noise is this' - with about as much wit as Thomas the Tank Engine. Clearly, you cannot rescue unknown Purcell by kicking him further into oblivion.
Part of the 'Strathclyde Season', 'The Indian Queen' ends tonight at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow G5 (041-429 5561)Reuse content