THEATRE / When violence masquerades as love: Paul Taylor on Le Cid, Corneille's tale of conflicting honour and desire, at the National's Cottesloe Theatre in London
Saturday 30 July 1994
Ximena (Susan Lynch) and Don Rodrigo (Duncan Bell) are about to be betrothed, but their happiness swiftly turns to agony when the Count, her puffed-up military-hero father (Edward de Souza), insults the elderly father of Rodrigo (Alan MacNaughtan), the hero he superseded.
The code demands that insults be repaid at all costs, with the result that Rodrigo, riven between his desire for vengeance and his passion for Ximena, slays the Count and lands her in the equally fraught and invidious position of having to call for retribution against him.
The set for Jonathan Kent's arresting Cottesloe production is dominated by two huge gilt looking-glass frames slumped forward on an undignified tilt. The one is empty, the other a magic mirror capable of flashing up images from the mind's eye, or of counterpointing one character with another on either side of the looking-glass divide. At the start, for example, as Ximena is being laced into her clothes by her servant, we see the same activity mirrored behind her in the dressing of the Infanta (Samantha Bond). It's a stage picture that eerily conveys Ximena's unwitting surrogacy, for it turns out that the Infanta has calculatingly fostered the girl's ardour for Rodrigo, or, as she puts it in the impassioned balance of Ranjit Bolt's eloquent translation 'Lit fires in her to fight the fires in me'.
Positively shaking with the strain of ill-suppressed desire and having to clutch at pillars for support, Bond's stiff, tottering Infanta offers a terrifying authentic study in fixation. Knowing that Rodrigo is too low in rank for her, she has endeavoured to put thoughts of him aside by marrying him off: 'I dare not hope until all hope is gone.' But then events conspire to give her hopes sickly resuscitation. When Rodrigo wins renown for saving Castile from the invading Moors, she questions whether the class difference now matters . . .
Their obstinacies over honour tying them into ever more elaborate knots, Ximena and Rodrigo could easily turn into a comic pair in front of an English audience, so it's a tribute to the slightly crazed integrity of Duncan Bell's Rodrigo and the blazing-eyed, bawling vehemence of Susan Lynch's raven-haired, determined slip of a Ximena that they manage to ward off irreverent laughter until the last act.
Partly, the problem there is that while the feeling of the play is tragic, the plot swerves towards a tragicomic conclusion. Tricked twice into a volubly unguarded display of emotion on the mistaken assumption that Rodrigo is dead, Ximena cannot be said to conclude the play with dignity undented. You feel, by this stage, that she's done enough to deserve the suicide option. Indeed, for all the intellectually absurd postures the code of honour has forced on them, there's a sense in which the play betrays the central couple's uncompromising intensity in delivering them up to a 'happy' ending, even when it's as muted as the 1682 version used here.
'El Cid' is in repertory at the National Theatre, London SE1 (Box-office: 071-928 2252)
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Florida man sentenced to two-and-a-half years for having sex on the beach in front of a child
- 2 Autistic teenager beaten up by bullies makes them watch 20-minute video about autism
- 3 Nick Kyrgios calls former Olympian Dawn Fraser a 'blatant racist' after she tells Wimbledon star to 'go back where their parents came from'
- 4 World learns of app that shows you who unfriended you on Facebook, app promptly crashes
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Chronixx interview: Reggae sensation on taking the opening spot at Glastonbury and calling Barack Obama a 'waste man'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director Jack Bender says showrunners 'communicate closely' with George RR Martin
Top Gear: Jeremy Clarkson 'can't front ITV motoring show' due to BBC contract clause
Amy Winehouse film: Mark Ronson praises 'respectful' movie as it scores highest ever UK opening for British documentary
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy