by Tirso de Molina translation by Sean O’Brien from literal translation by Simon Breden.

Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET In rep to 20 December 2013.
11am 14 Dec.
2.30pm 28 Nov.
7.45pm 27, 30 Nov, 2, 3, 6, 13, 19, 20 Dec.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.

then Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street Dalston E8 3DL In rep 9 January-15 March.
7.30pm 9, 13-18 Jan, 3-8, 24 Feb-1 March.
2.30pm 18 Jan, 8 Feb, 1, 15 March.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.

then Belgrade Theatre (B2) Belgrade Square CV1 1GS In rep 27 March-19 April 2014.
7.30pm 27, 29 March, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 15 April.
2.15pm 16, 19 April.
TICKETS: 024 7655 3055.

Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 November.

A production that needs room to grow, of a play with a conclusion surprisingly modern in tone.
Priest-turned-playwright Tirso de Molina composed fewer pieces than season companion Lope de Vega with his thousands. Yet, weighing-in around 400 titles, he still makes Shakespeare and co look mere slouches.

And he has a place in dramatic history, introducing the character of Don Juan to the stage in The Trickster of Seville.

Nevertheless, tiresome de Molina he might at first seem here – though it mightn’t be entirely his responsibility. Director Mehmet Ergen, whose staging of the rapid action is competent rather than confident, runs London’s Arcola Theatre, middle-stage post for these three revivals from 17th-century Spain.

It would be unsurprising if he shows less fluency in moving a sizeable cast around a small stage area, with entrances and exits expanding through the auditorium, than Ustinov boss Laurence Boswell.

Mark Bailey’s two-storey panel set opens-out helpfully for this comedy but the action still makes technical demands. Ergen’s production may feel happier in London, and when it’s sent to Coventry, another stage with more scope for movement.

Certainly production, play and plot come to life in the latter’s later stages, reaching a surprisingly modern-seeming situation amidst the traditional-enough love-knots. For the comic action culminates in four figures clad in bright green turning-up more or less simultaneously, all claiming to be the same character – who doesn’t exist.

Nearest to it in modern drama is the final act of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off when the farce-within-the-comedy’s Burglar arrives in a series of impersonations. It’s at Frayn’s most philosophical moment, and there’s a modern tone of absurdity present in Tirso too.

Striking, serious women in love drive the plot, but the ride’s notable for Jim Bywater’s comic Caramanche. Bywater has a true comic actor’s ability to make a small movement – scratching the back of his shins with his feet – genuinely funny, as part of a life where itches and delays come equally naturally. And he finds the human truth behind each laugh.

This is, another Ustinov season bold in planning and accomplished in performance. Coming from a studio linked to a commercial touring theatre it is little short of – no, it is – a miracle.

Donna Juana: Hedydd Dylan.
Don Martin:Doug Rao.
Donna Ines: Katie Lightfoot.
Don Pedro: William Hoyland.
Donna Clara: Annie Hemingway.
Don Juan: Simon Scardifield.
Quintana: Chris Andrew Mellon.
Caramanchel/Don Diego: Jim Bywater.
Ossorio/Bailiff: Nick Barber.
Clelia/Valdiviesa/Aguilara: Frances McNamee.

Director: Mehmet Ergen.
Designer/Costume: Mark Bailey.
Lighting: Ben Ormerod.
Sound/Composer: Jon Nicholls.
Choreographer/Movement: Lucy Cullingford.
Fight director: Terry King.
Dramaturg: Simon Breden.
Assistant directors: Almudena Adalia Calvo. Kay Michael.
Associate lighting: Anthony Arblaster.

2013-11-26 21:47:47

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