MEREDITH Oakes’ intense and poetic translation of Lope de Vega’s El Castigo Sin Venganza takes its place in the trio of plays that makes up the Spanish Golden Age season at Bath’s Ustinov Studio until 21st December, adding the dark shadows to the comedy of Tirso de Molina’s romp.
You might guess from the title – Punishment without Revenge – that it will all end in tears, and the monk-playwright de Vega knew all about guilt and retribution. Director Laurence Boswell is steeped in the culture and history of the country where he lives half his life, and has not only introduced British audiences to little-known masterpieces from Spain’s golden age of literature and art, but understands that delicate balance between pride and forgiveness around which this play dallies.
The Duke is an old man, but his legendary appetite for lascivious nights and easy women is undimmed. He has fathered a bastard son, Federico, who he adores, but although he wants the noble young man to succeed him to the Dukedom, his relatives want to see a legitimate heir on the throne, so the duke agrees, against his will, to marry Cassandara, the daughter of a prince from an adjoining city state.
Federico is riven with concerns that his position will be compromised by the marriage, but on his way to fetch his new “mother” he rescues two women about to be washed away in a raging river when their carriage collapses.
As soon as he and Cassandra set eyes on each other it’s love (and lust) at first sight, and their fate is sealed.
de Vega satisfied the church by creating what looks like a moral ending, with the Duke altered and reformed by his meeting with the Pope, and justice meted out. It doesn’t bear too much application of Christian philosophy as we understand it, but this was 16th century Spain.
The play has some astonishing speeches capturing the essence of performing arts, imagined love and human passion. It’s characters, conforming to the convention of the time, offer a fascinating insight into the development of European drama.
One of the fascinations of the Ustinov seasons is seeing a company of actors playing three (and often more) very different roles in these exciting plays. In Punishment Without Revenge, Simon Scardifield is Batin, the wise and confused servant who can see what the future must hold for his masters.
The excellent Frances McNamee returns to the theatre after her memorable performances in Boswell’s first season as Cassandra, and Katie Lightfoot continues to delight this time as the stricken Aurora.
Nick Barber is the obsessed and passionate Federico and William Hoyland his changeable father.
It’s not an easy evening at the theatre, but one packed with unexpected riches.
See review of the third play in the season, A Lady of Little Sense, next week.