"Where am I?" cries the terrified beautiful heroine, who has latterly taken the veil.
She's in a state because she's just been bundled in an imposing coffin and ferried by men in pointy black Ku Klux Klan-like hats to this unknown address. "Not in a nunnery," proclaims the bug-eyed villain of the piece, in one of the many moments in Cardenio, exhilaratingly assembled and directed for the RSC by Greg Doran, that is precariously poised on the cusp between consciously camp and inadvertent humour.
So where, in broader terms, is the sorely tried Lucinda situated? Well, the RSC has billed this piece as "Shakespeare's 'Lost Play' re-imagined" – a phrase that makes several significant concessions from the outset. I could use up all my space detailing the complicatedness of this show's provenance – and the various arguments for maintaining that Lewis Theobald's 1727 play (one of its main sources) is an adaptation, at one or two removes, of The History of Cardenio, a play registered in 1653 as having been a collaboration, performed 1612-13, between Shakespeare and John Fletcher.
Instead, I'll just judge from the evidence of seeing the show, in which Theobald has been beefed up with episodes derived from the 1612 Thomas Shelton translation of Don Quixote. This latter is the tome where the collaborators alighted on the story of the eponymous horseman who is betrayed when his high-born, treacherous friend Fernando makes the moves on Luscinda, causing Cardenio to go tonto and retreat to the mountains where there are high incidence of northern-accented shepherds.
Doran's production beautifully alternates between cocking an arch eyebrow over the fervid proceedings and corrugating its brow over them. Alex Hassell is fantastically good as the dastardly Fernando, glaring and attitudinising as though he were the lovechild of Oliver Reed suffering from an early-onset case of the Brian Blesseds. Oliver Rix is a beguiling Cardenio, at first full of flustered charm, then haunting crack-wittedness. Lucy Briggs-Owen is all sagging, blubbery-mouthed outrage at her plight. How one wishes one could push Falstaff and his anti-honour speech on to the stage. In shame-cultures such as this women, as here, wind up having to woo the men who have raped them. Not exactly edifying.
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