The thought of a ‘new’ Shakespeare, another piece to add to the Bard’s existing repertoire, is an exciting one – a chance to see an entirely new play from one of our most loved writers, although Double Falsehood could hardly be classed as such, the authorship being such a contentious issue. Either way, this is a production that cannot be judged wholly by its source material, and the work here is to a high quality, although a collection of awkward decisions do let the show down – a shame considering the considerable talent involved. In the end, a difficult play performed with some difficulty – perfectly watchable, but lacking in key areas.
I don’t want to spend too long debating the authorship of Double Falsehood – it doesn’t seem germane to a review of a production thereof, although I will say this – if it is Shakespeare, it certainly won’t stand alongside the ones remembered or often performed. Unfortunately, this production seemed all too aware of their product’s shortcomings, and thus the awkwardness of the script translated onto the stage in a rather unfortunate way.
First off, the story is rather difficult to stomach – dealing with the classic themes of love and marriage, but also weaving in a story of rape which, by modern standards, is nothing short of distasteful: a rape victim decides she must find her attacker and force him to marry her – a difficult stone to swallow in today’s more emancipated society. Beyond the rape and the issues around it, the plot also seems far too convoluted, relying too heavily on the old ‘mistaken identity’ trope with 4 different characters – very hard to follow indeed.
However, instead of trying to use their production to rework these issues, this production team seemed instead to add even more complexity to scenes that really needed simplifying. Costumes, ostensibly Spanish, covered rather artlessly rather than revealing – by the time the entire cast was in Franciscan smocks, distinguishing between all characters, let alone those the audience were supposed to, became quite the challenge, especially when they all had their pointed hoods up, making the set look more like a cult sacrifice or Klan meeting than a lost Shakespeare play!
The lack of staging also added some difficulty – the blocking, often with actors stealing into the audience, made scenes difficult to take in in full or see at all – even moreso when backs were turned to the audience, which happened far too often. Beyond blocking the action, most movement on stage also smacked too much of ballet – here was not a Shakespeare naturalised, but a Shakespeare over-choreographed.
That being said, there were some excellent performences to be teased from the cast: Jessie Lilley in particular impressed in the difficult role of Violante, only occasionally indulging some of her more pathos-ridden dialogue, and there were some nice moments from Adam Redmore as the diabolical Henrique, although most of the cast spent much of their time over- or underacting – a bit of a mish-mash.
In the end, this is not a poor production, but it suffers heavily with an undeserving script – Shakespeare or not, it lacks any wit or energy to make it more than just a hard-to-stomach tragedy, and the production made little or no attempt to counter any of the difficulties therein. This is a strong effort, but feels more like an opportunity grasped than a labour of love – and it shows.