June 27, 2010, by Peter Kirwan

Double Falsehood (Warwick Shakespeare Society) @ Warwick Arts Centre

Today was the Warwick Shakespeare Society’s rehearsed reading of Double Falsehood, which I’ve been involved in as a sort of dramaturg. I’ve already covered the rehearsal process in detail here, here and here, so this is just a quick note on the final performance, which I was finally able to sit down and enjoy.

I gave a very quick introduction to the historical context of the play and the debates over whether or not it does preserve something of the original, and to what we were doing today (to wit: a reading-plus rather than a production-minus). Not sure that the format was to everyone’s taste – one couple left after two minutes, presumably having expected a full bells-and-whistles version, but no matter.

The cast did a fantastic job, really bringing the play to life. I’d been interested to see how coherent the action was, and while I obviously have something of an advantage in knowing the plot, I was pleased to find it very straightforward, helped by the linearity of the structure.

Special mention to Nick Collins and Emma Taylor, who turned Don Bernard and Leonora into a brilliant comedy act, the daughter teasing her father constantly while the father blundered on blindly. The comedy dynamic between Don Bernard and Lawrence Gibson’s Camillo was also brought out extremely nicely, with Gibson getting most of the biggest laughs. I was also particularly impressed with Lily Walker’s Epilogue, which struck a fascinatingly edgy tone between making fun of the frozen cast, and critiquing the laughter of the audience.

The problems of cross-dressing and disguises were largely overcome. We realised that our blocking didn’t allow Jo Foakes enough time to change back into her female clothes during the final scene, but she carried off the transition with simple changes in posture, which the dialogue in any case made abundantly clear. The final scene in general worked extremely well, although it left the small stage rather cluttered; and Julio’s unrecognised presence was rendered by simply having him turned away and hiding his face from Leonora.

The change in tone moving to Act 4 is really significant, and if we’d had time it would have been great to insert an interval. As it was, the comedy of the shepherds and Julio’s madness (which is amusing on some levels, although heartbreaking on others, and Tom Hutchinson did a great job with this) followed on very abruptly from the previous scene, but if nothing else this only made the transition all the clearer. The before-and-after of Henriquez’s rape of Violante, however, was very sudden. In the original text, there’s an act break between the two, which would presumably help with showing the passage of time; as it was, Simon Neill’s shift from anticipation to conscience-wrestling did the work instead.

There were plenty of other really nice touches. Tim Kaufmann’s Master of the Flocks was entertainingly lecherous, rubbing his thighs and getting extremely hot and bothered at Violante’s "innuendo" – Brean Hammond may not recognise it as such, but this performance convinced me that this scene is extremely bawdy. A few of the smaller roles felt undeveloped – it’s a shame, for example, that Fabian and Lopez appear and disappear so quickly, which doesn’t help the sense much – but I found the doubling of Ronnie Bassett and Sam Jefferyes as the Shepherds and Gentlemen gave a much more structured arc to the fourth act, the two spending enough time with Julio to allow a relationship to build up on stage.

Several of the more stagey devices were dropped in practice, such as Violante’s "dropping" of her letter which was then to be picked up by Henriquez on his subsequent entrance; and Leonora’s faint at the wedding was staged much more simply. For this scene, the rest of the cast all stood up, making the scene far more public, which looked nice. We also retained the long walk of Josh Cockcroft’s Citizen between his receiving the letter from Leonora and his delivery of it to Julio, which linked those scenes together extremely effectively.

Finally, the dynamics between the major male characters were extremely interesting. There’s a displacement of authority in the very first scene which established Sam Sturrock’s Roderick as the proxy of power and the agent of intervention throughout the play, and the movements of Roderick, Henriquez and Julio towards their final unity really drove the play. I’d love, if I had the chance to be involved in a more substantial production one day, to explore these male friendships in action, because these bonds strongly frame the action. What this reading did, though, was bring out the importance of Roderick in effecting the various solutions to the play’s problems, and the final patterned union worked neatly.

I’m really pleased to have had the chance, at long last, to be involved in a performance-based experiment, and I’m extremely impressed with how quickly the cast and director Sophie Gilpin pulled together a fluent, clear and thoroughly interesting reading. It’d be great to see more small-scale projects like this at Warwick, though I understand that time and money inevitably favour a few dedicated big productions over the smaller events. I got a great deal out of it though, and I hope the audience did too.

Posted in Theatre review