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June 2, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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The History of Cardenio


On 19 May, William Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s ‘lost’ play, The History of Cardenio, reconstructed by Gary Taylor, premiered at Victoria University as part of New Zealand’s Compleate Workes project.

With Gary Taylor working alongside Theatre 302 students, developing this script in production has been part of the process of discovering what the original play might have looked like. Jacobean staging conventions have been simulated as much as possible within the limitations of Studio 77, a university course and as much as a modern Wellington audience might be willing to go along with.

There are two levels of audience seating, some on the theatre floor (on a graduated seating block) which surrounds the raised stage on three sides. In the galleries above the stage, audience members are seated on all four sides.

The theatre is lit by artificial candle light on two rather grand chandeliers that hang above the stage, plus some hidden modern theatre lights. The overall design of the production, mentored by Jim Davenport is well unified, genuine and effective.

Four musicians sit on stage right and play a mixture of diagetic music, which was composed in the Jacobean period and non-diagetic tunes composed by Music Director Simon Dickson. Music plays as the audience enters and comes back at times throughout the piece, creating a mellowing atmosphere.

The text is easy to follow and the actors clearly communicate their meaning thorughout, although often a little too much time is taken, lulling us into a monotony that leaves some of the weightier moments feeling indulgent on the actors’ part. More significant changes in the tempo of dialogue, action and music could have aided in raising the energy and breaking up the rhythm of the show.
On the whole, the production is very well cast. Kelly Irvine stands out as the endearingly naïve Sancho, boy side-kick to Senor Quesada, tragically portrayed by Christopher De Sousa Smith. Irvine earns her laughs in her consistent and entertaining characterisation, while bursts of energy from other characters stand out, appearing awkwardly choreographed among their sometimes loose characterisation.

Paul Waggott is superb as Cardenio. Kate Clarkin portrays a prudent Lucinda, who is all to aware of her weaknesses: her love for Cardenio and position as a woman. Every interaction between the pair is powerfully truthful to watch. Their ‘balcony scene’ is a highlight, full of energy and passion that earns Waggot the stillness his following soliloquy deserves. My only disappointment was that this scene was followed by an interval, just when I had been fully drawn in, I was forced to pause and the momentum took a while to build up again afterwards.

Jonny Potts creates a charming Ferdinando, his manner successfully masking the villian’s selfishly cruel intentions with the innocent Violante (Elle Wootton) making it understandable to us that she falls for him and distressing when the happiest ending she could hope for is to marry him. The vulnerability that Wootton portrays in Violante made her story the real tragedy for me, particularly in her song, ‘Woods, Rocks and Mountians’, the only surviving authentic text from the original play. I felt that perhaps this song would have been stronger without the guitar accompaniment, to heighten our sense of her isolation as her womb becomes “the tomb of [her] own honour”.

It’s exciting to see a new Shakespearean play, and the story is worth being told. It’s full of melodrama, tragedy and slapstick comedy, but in its essence it’s just a story about the best and worst parts of love.

By William Shakespeare, John Fletcher and Gary Taylor
Directed by David Carnegie; Assistant Director: Lori Leigh; Dramaturg: Gary Taylor.

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About the Author ()

Fiona was named "Recessionista" in the ASPA Fashion Awards 2009 for her Takaka op-shop frock and spray painted shoes. She co-edits the arts section and also likes to write about women and other stuff.

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