Theatre review: Punishment Without Revenge, Ustinov Studio, Bath

4.00

 

No English director is a better advocate for the glories of Spanish Golden Age drama than Laurence Boswell – as he proves once again with the richly enterprising three-play repertory he has masterminded at Bath. The tragic centrepiece of the season is his darkly glittering and deeply engrossing production of Punishment Without Revenge (1631) – generally reckoned to be one of the greatest of the four hundred surviving theatrical works by the astoundingly prolific Lope de Vega. 

Watching Spanish plays from this period, I find myself profoundly grateful to have been born into a culture that has traditionally taken a sceptical view of rigid codes of honour –  in the easy-going, pragmatic manner of Falstaff (“What is honour? A word”). Lope's tragedy dramatises, with fierce insight, the inhumanity of the code's inexorable laws and the vicious lengths to which to which people will go in order, technically, to save face. 

The Duke of Ferrara (excellent William Hoyland), a notorious womaniser, hopes that one day his beloved illegitimate son, Federico, will succeed him.  But he bows to public pressure for an undisputed heir and marries the beautiful young Cassandra. This is just a front, though. The Duke instantly reverts to debauchery and, while he is away at the wars, his unhappy bride and her stepson are left struggling to master an overpowering mutual attraction. 

Using a pithy and pointed new translation by Meredith Oakes, Boswell's production has a feel of both Velazquez and Racine – Mark Bailey's handsome set of polished black glass and gold  accruing the atmosphere of a mausoleum. As the lovers, Nick Barber and Frances McNamee palpitate and agonise with impressive seriousness, the light relief left to Simon Scardifield's long-suffering servant who has a talent for getting to the point more quickly than his emoting high-minded master. 

The young pair are sympathetic because, at first, they put up such heroic resistance to their forbidden passion. And even when the need for concealment forces Federico into lies that create fresh spasms of jealousy and play fast and loose with the affections of Katie Lightfoot's luminous Aurora, the couple still come across as morally superior to the mode of retribution. For the code demands that the dishonour to the Duke be kept secret; he, therefore, has to engineer a scenario of murder-by-proxy in which he's able to pose as a minister for justice rather than a private revenger. Boswell's production brings home the full grotesque force of this casuistical charade. Highly recommended.

To 21 December; 01225 448844 – the season transfers to Arcola in London in January 2014 and to the Belgrade, Coventry in March.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum