Re-imagining Cardenio

Pancake Tuesday

March 18, 2011
The Cardenio company in fiesta mood

The Cardenio company in fiesta mood

As this is Shrove Tuesday, we should really be rehearsing the Fiesta scene today, but alas it is not my priority day, and Dominic Hill has called most of the company for The City Madam.*

We had a good session on the fiesta last week. Cervantes says that in order to win Dorotea's affection Fernando bribed the servants, and paid for music and dancing in the village every night, so we are staging this in the production. We scanned all the research material we had collected for inspiration: the amazing photographs by Christina Rodero of Spanish Festivals and rituals, Goya's dark carnival painting The Burial of the Sardine and read a lively diatribe against the festivities enjoyed at Shrovetide in 'popish countries' in the sixteenth century by Thomas Kirchmaier, 'englyshed' by Barnabe Googe in 1570. We note how certain factors are common to all: the dressing up, the presence of devils, and masks, and a love of drag!

'But some again the dreadful shape of devils on them take,
And chase such as they meet, and make poor boys to fear and quake.
Some naked run about the streets, their faces hid alone,
With visors close, that so disguised, they might be known of none.
Both men and women change their weed, the men in maid's array,
And wanton wenches dressed like men, do travel by the way,

Some like wild beasts do run abroad in skins that divers be
Arrayed and eke with loathsome shapes, that dreadful are to see:
They counterfeit both bears and wolves, and lions fierce to fight,
And raging bulls. Some play the cranes with wings and stilts upright.
Some like the filthy form of apes, and some like fools dressed,
Which best beseem these papists all, that thus keep Bacchus feast.'

I like the idea of cranes or storks, like the ones we saw on the roof tops of Alacala de Henares. And stilts could be effective. But one detail in Barnabe Googe's apoplectic puritan howl catches the eye of Michael Grady Hall, one of the young actors, who suggests this might be a great addition to our invented scene:

'But others bear a turd, that on a cushion soft they lay,
And one there is that with a flap doth keep the flies away,
I would there might another be, an officer of those,
Whose room might serve to take away the scent from every nose.'

I wonder what the Front of House team would make of that!

Next we peer closely at the intriguing engravings by de Gheyn of masquerade costumes from 1599, with back-to-front people, a man with a turkey wattle mask and a haunting character playing a zambomba (a type of drum).

The V&A, who hold this collection of Masquerade costumes, suggest that the man pictured is stirring a pot, but we think he's playing a zambomba. In the 1950s, Brenan describes the instrument which still featured in Andalucian festivities then: 'pot ar flower pot, rabbit skin'. This sounds like a great noise for our fiesta. Gerard Brenan also describes another carnival feature common to other accounts. He mentions the straw dummies or peleles, which were regularly used as part of midsummer mayhem in Andalucia. These could be very useful. Our resourceful Assistant Stage Manager, Mark, mocks up a pair of peleles for our rehearsal, by stuffing pairs of pyjamas with scrunched up newspaper. His addition of the vegetable genitalia with a stuffed sock raises a great guffaw in the company.

Once the company don a few masks we have had brought up from the store, and try on some of the trashy frippery and glistering apparel from the rack, they are transformed, and all inhibitions fly out the window. What unspeakable acts Chris Etteridge (playing the dignified Duke) now dressed as a green devil performs upon the dragged up Nick Day (Don Bernardo) would earn the show an X certificate. I begin to think I had better contact Chris Hill, our Director of Marketing and Sales, about a parental guidance warning!

* As we are cross-rehearsing both Cardenio and The City Madam I have priority for half the week, which means I can call whoever, and however many actors I want in those sessions, and Dominic Hill, directing The City Madam, has the other half in which he can do the same.

by Greg Doran  |  No comments yet


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