views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Spanish Tragedy
The Blue Elephant Theatre
28th September 2013


Photography © Adam Trigg

Their last production, The Tragedy of Mariam, left us slightly underwhelmed but The Spanish Tragedy marks a return to glory for Lazarus Theatre. Not only that, but it is a great show with which to kick off the new season at the Blue Elephant. As you've probably guessed, it's an Elizabethan tragedy, written by Shakespeare's contemporary Thomas Kyd. And as with all things Lazarus, it may be a traditional text, but there are some very modern touches.

Bel-Imperia (Felicity Sparks), the niece of the King of Spain (Roseanna Morris), is in love with Don Andrea (Joseph Emms). This story of romance is cut short before the play even starts, with Andrea killed in battle by Portuguese noble Balthazar (Jamie Spindlove). Despite this loss, the Spaniards prevail, with Andrea's loyal friend Horatio (Adam Cunis) taking Balthazar prisoner. Rather than order Balthazar to be killed, the King entrusts him to his nephew Lorenzo (James Peter-Bennett), who tries to take credit for Horatio's bravery.

Whilst being wined and dined by his enemies, Balthazar takes a shine to Bel-Imperia. Unsurprisingly, she doesn't show any desire to leap into the arms of her lover's murderer. Instead, she resolves to give her heart to Horatio, who recovered Andrea's corpse and gave him a private send-off. The combination of grief, gratitude and spite doesn't end well, with Balthazar and Lorenzo teaming up to bump off Horatio and have Bel-Imperia unwillingly betrothed to Balthazar.

However, Horatio isn't just any Spaniard, he's the son of Hieronimo (Danny Solomon), who happens to be the Knight Marshal of the country. Upon finding the lifeless body, he not only undertakes to unravel the conspiracy, but to seek vengeance on his son's behalf. And all this with Revenge (Maria Alexe) hovering ominously in the background.

Phew, that was a lot of exposition. But although the plot may sound complicated and full of far too many characters, it's surprisingly easy to follow. Director Ricky Dukes has edited the text respectfully, the language still faithful to the original, but condensed into a lean 100 minutes straight through.

He, along with costume designer Nicki Martin-Harper has given a 1940s feel to proceedings - nicely enough given Spain's military dictatorship during that time and the theoretical neutrality of both countries in the Second World War. This was seen strongest in women's braided updos, long skirts and low-heeled Mary Janes, together with the men's military overcoats. But there are some even more contemporary and more whimsical touches - helium filled brightly-colored balloons, bunting and stepladders - that add a farcical element, especially during Hieronimo's breakdown and bloody denouement

Photography © Adam Trigg

Every inch a classical actor, Solomon leads a strong cast, keeping a straight face throughout the mayhem and with a particularly powerful descent into madness. Martin-Harper dresses the King in a long floaty skirt, suit jacket and lined crown, all in a vibrant blood red. There's a hint of Wonderland about Morris' outfit, exacerbated by her frequently funny delivery, but this also continues to make for a smooth blend of comic and tragic rather than derailing the production.

This misfortune also comes from Revenge, dressed in a slinky black number, casually strolling across the stage. She's sensual, playful and a trickster of the worst kind. Whilst the ghost of Andrea angrily frets over whether he will get his justice, she reassures him, but as she manipulates the players, it's clear she's simply causing trouble for her own entertainment. Hieronimo is introduced as a virtuous man, yet Alexe's seductive, elegant character easily drives him mad. His lack of punishment makes clear that the director blames Revenge for Hieronimo's spiral, even the best of society capable of being undone by the inherent primal urges.

There's smoke and darkness, but Lazarus have learned a thing or two since their last production, and Miguel Vicente's lighting design is both striking and measured. There are complete blackouts, but Vicente uses these sparingly, with front-lighting and hand held lights breaking up some dark scenes.

Now, everyone knows that a tragedy doesn't end well. But Ricky Dukes' conclusion is a high-impact mess of silliness and violence, even if the production as a whole did take a little time to get off the starting block and into full sprint. Still, Dukes is an old hand when it comes to directing, and in particular, directing at the Blue Elephant. The set is typical of someone who knows the venue well, the space is both fully utilised and looks like nothing we've seen before. When led by Dukes, Lazarus Theatre are a force to be reckoned with.

The Spanish Tragedy ran from 24th September to 19th October 2013 at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Oval (Northern)

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