Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Theatre review: Punishment Without Revenge (El Castigo sin Venganza)

With Globe to Globe now a regular fixture, it seems a natural next step for the Globe’s annual international strand to expand its horizons and let the foreign companies bring some of their own national classics back to the South Bank. Equally obvious as a starting point are Shakespeare’s near-contemporaries of the Spanish Golden Age, and though Lope de Vega is thought to have written over 2000 plays, there seems to be some consensus that Punishment Without Revenge (El Castigo sin Venganza) is one of his best. I saw an English-language production earlier this year, so it was comparatively fresh in my memory, enough to help me with the story in this production by Spain's Fundación Siglo de Oro company. The Duke of Ferrara (Jesús Fuente) takes a young wife for appearances' sake, but his infamous womanising doesn't let up in the slightest, leaving Casandra (Alejandra Mayo) humiliated. When the Duke is recruited to a crusade, he leaves Casandra in the care of his bastard son Federico (Rodrigo Arribas,) who's been in love with her since he first saw her.

Fundación Siglo de Oro were one of the companies who took part in the original Globe to Globe (though I didn't see their Henry VIII,) and the play was probably written for a theatre not unlike the Jacobethan playhouses, but this particular show doesn't really betray that. Ernesto Arias' production is quite an intimate, restrained one, which has powerful moments but feels lost on a stage that's never looked so big.- the actors are always either huddled together in one corner or miles apart, and there's no real attempt to engage with the audience.


The other thing that makes this a curiously distancing evening for a non-Spanish speaker is the translation. As is the Globe's way, the screens don't provide a direct translation of the dialogue, instead offering scene descriptions. These have now got so detailed they are essentially paraphrasing the dialogue, so must be pretty much as much effort to put together as proper surtitles would have been. All that's missing is the detail, so there's lots of "he uses humour," "she uses bitter irony," "he uses a metaphor" (that last one shows up a lot - he loved a metaphor, did Lope de Vega.) So we get the story but it's all the more evident how we're missing the flavour, jokes and personality. Whoever wrote the captions also managed to come up with the most baffling phrase ever to claim to explain what's going on: "Federico and Camila verbalise expressions of containment." I think I speak for us all when I say ???????????!!???? ?????????????!!!?? ??!!!!?????????????????!?? ???!?


Overall, then, a classily understated production, but too much so to really translate to the Globe's stage - and that's not the only translation issue that leaves a non Spanish-speaking audience unable to feel fully included. (And while I'm on the subject of translation, could I suggest that if the Globe plan to continue with foreign-language theatre they invest in a third monitor? The two existing ones leave a number of bays with an onstage pillar slap-bang in the middle of the caption; a third screen in the centre of the Middle Gallery would be visible to those people in the bays nearest the stage.)

Punishment Without Revenge (El Castigo sin Venganza) by Lope de Vega is booking in repertory until the 6th of September at Shakespeare's Globe.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

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