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Review: Shakespeare’s Cardenio Not Quite South African Enough

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5 to 5 July 2020

Cardenio is a major milestone in the history of Maynardville Open-Air Theatre. It not only marks a 21st century premiere of a play by William Shakespeare, but is also the first time in 14 years that the bard’s work will be presented in full period costume.

Set in 17th century Spain, the play follows the tale of young Cardenio, his love for the fair Luscinda and his turbulent friendship with the Duke’s son, Fernando. Combine these elements and the result is a Shakespearian inevitability, namely that “the course of true love never did run smooth”. The plausibility of a premiere is due to the fact that Cardenio is a lost play of Shakespeare’s, inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The play was a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, performed at court. Roughly 400 years later, it finds itself on the South African stage.

As exciting as this momentous occasion is, it is a pity that Cardenio is not placed in a South African context. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is running concurrently with Cardenio, has been presented with a South African flavour. However, Shakespeare’s lost play inspired The Cardenio Project, which seeks to have the play performed around the world on the condition that it is done within each country’s specific social and cultural milieu. It would have been exciting, and quite a challenge, to see Cardenio South Africanised instead of A Midsummer Night’s Dream,particularly as the latter has been transformed so many times on stage and screen already.

Nonetheless, it is wonderful to see Shakespeare done in period and the costumes by Dicky Longhurst are exquisite. There is a vast array, particularly as it is a big cast, and a fine attention to detail is evident in each. The set design is simple and the depth of the stage due to the use of the outdoor surroundings is fantastic. As one peeks past the city gates and into the trees beyond, a strong feeling of being transported into the story and its world is evoked.  The scene changes are a clever use of the large cast and add ambience to the story, while reminding the audience of its setting. It is just a pity that Luscinda and Dorotea (Fernando’s love interest) often have to act from behind barred balconies, as it obscures their performances.

Shakespeare is a challenge for any modern actor. The cast handle the language well, although a few of the monologues are performed too superficially. Andre Jacobs does a magnificent turn as Don Camillo, Cardenio’s father. He delivers his lines with quiet authority and an undercurrent of wit. Jenny Stead is no stranger to Maynardville’s stage or to Shakespeare and she embraces the role of Luscinda with charm and flirtatious pomp.

At times the pace is sadly very slack, particularly considering the exciting melodrama inherent in the characters’ circumstances. The music makes no sense, as jovial tracks punctuate the most dramatic moments.  The actors use their own accents, which would have been fine; but some of the minor characters speak in Spanish accents. Although it is set in Spain, none of the leads employ this technique and it is consequently inconsistent for others to do so.

There is something to be said for open-air theatre. It takes the formality out of going to the theatre and at Maynardville it can be made even more fun by having a picnic in the park before the show starts. A strong word of warning though: remember to dress warmly.

Cardenio is a play that will be appreciated more by die-hard theatregoers and Shakespeare fans, but the magic of the setting always makes for a unique experience.

Claudia Hauter
Cardenio runs from 9 January to 9 March2013 at Maynardville Open-Air Theatre. Details here.

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