Punishment Without Revenge at the Arcola Theatre
At two and a half hours, Lope de Vega’s 17th century masterpiece Punishment Without Revenge is no walk in the park. Part of the Arcola’s Spanish Golden Age season, the prolific Spanish playwright’s tale of forbidden love and its moral complexities is a marathon of achingly tense drama, interspersed with witty humour; a testament to Meredith Oakes’ triumphant new translation.
The Duke of Ferrara, who has lived a debauched and non-committal lifestyle is forced to marry in order to provide a legitimate heir to his title – one that will pose a direct threat to the Duke’s bastard son, Federico. But when Federico falls for his father’s new wife Cassandra, the threat of his disinheritance becomes the least of his concerns.
Federico and Cassandra’s moral turmoil contributes to an emotionally rich and agonising first half that stretches the guilt-stricken pair to their limits before even indulging their feelings. Once they do however, the play unravels quickly and culminates all too soon. With a build-up that examines the darkness of human conscience in such excruciating detail, the fall out of the pair’s lustful affair brings the play to an end that feels abrupt and slightly rushed.
Mark Bailey’s costume design is sumptuous and gothic, but his set is as austere as the loveless relationship between the Duke and his wife. The staging is clunky at times, yet it is more than made up for by some superb performances. William Hoyland is powerful and commanding as the Duke, whose presence brings chills wherever he goes.
Nick Barber and Frances McNamee are captivating as the doomed lovers and particularly shine in a sequence of emotionally charged scenes. It is Simon Scardifield as Federico’s long-suffering servant that offers some comedic light to the play’s ever-darkening progression. With an air of perpetual exasperation towards his master’s melodramatic anxieties, he is quick witted and wildly entertaining.
The script by Lope de Vega, who, fittingly, was adulterous throughout his life, is realised by director Laurence Boswell, who brings the production from the Theatre Royal Bath. It is an enigmatic interpretation of a Spanish classic, that despite its length sustains both heavy drama and sharp humour throughout.
Photo: Jane Hobson
Punishment Without Revenge is at the Arcola Theatre until 14th March 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.