TIRSO de Molina’s hilarious 1615 play Don Gil de las Calzaz Verdes is one of three plays from the Spanish Golden Age on stage in repertory at Bath’s Ustinov Theatre until 21st December.
The writer’s real name was Gabriel Tellez, and he was a monk, one of those sent to the New World to Santo Domingo from 1616 to 1618, by which time his fame as a playwright was established. As his work became more critical of the regime, the plays fell victim to a campaign for moral reform – and it’s not difficult to see why from the Bath production of Don Gil, in a new translation by Sean O’Brien.
It is the hilarious story of Donna Juana, who has lost her heart and her maidenhead to the smooth talking Don Martin, and been abandoned when the young man’s father gets a whiff of a fortune to be made from his son marrying a wealthy heiress, Donna Ines.
Juana dresses as a man, dubs herself Don Gil, and sets off to wreck her lover’s chances of wealth and happiness.
But in “wooing” Ines, she also attracts the attention of Donna Clara, and with two women mad for love of her, has to devise ever more tortuous explanations for Don Gil’s presence in Madrid. And as the complications mount, so does the romantic comedy.
This brilliant production directed by Mehmet Ergen, depends on a versatile cast and a deal of green velvet.
The joy of the Ustinov seasons is that it brings repertory back to the scene, allowing audiences to form relationships with the company and come back to see them in different roles, night after night. The ten strong cast brings a host of comedia characters to life, and at the end it is a moral tale … of sorts.
Hedydd Dylan is a spirited Juana, and as Ines, Katie Lightfoot’s explanation to her father is a tour de force.
Simon Scardifield returns to the Ustinov where he made such a hit in The Double to play the silly suitor Don Juan, and Doug Rao is the bounder Martin, still able to justify his actions even when he is totally skewered.
You can see the shared roots of Shakespeare’s boy heroines and today’s pantomime principal boys in this marvellously inventive comedy, done in a style that keeps the audience in stitches. GP-W
See review of the third play in the season, A Lady of Little Sense, next week.