28 February 2011

RSC to stage Cardenio - 'Shakespeare's lost play'

Shakespeare's 'lost play' re-imagined

14 April – 6 October 2011

Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Press Night: Wednesday 27 April at 7pm

Part of the RSC's 50th Birthday Season

Box Office:, 0844 800 1110

Royal Shakespeare Company Chief Associate Director Gregory Doran is completing a piece of literary archaeology in his attempt to reconstruct the extraordinary story of Cardenio, the subject of a play which is understood to have been written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, and performed at Court in 1612.

Set in the heat and dust of Andalucia in seventeenth-century Spain, Cardenio is the story of a friendship betrayed. It has all the elements of a thriller - disguise, dishonour and deceit. A woman is seduced, a bride is forced to the altar and a man runs mad among the mountains of the Sierra Morena.

Doran is no stranger to Fletcher's plays. He directed the Fletcher-Shakespeare collaboration All is True (or Henry VIII) in 1996, The Island Princess in 2002 and The Tamer Tamed, Fletcher's sequel to The Taming of the Shrew in 2003. Amongst his many Shakespeare credits are the stage and film versions of Hamlet with David Tennant in the title role.

A copy of the 1612 collaboration which was performed in court has never been found. However, it is claimed that Double Falsehood by Lewis Theobold is an eighteenth-century adaptation of it. It was first presented at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1727.

Doran said: 'I found a first edition copy of the Double Falsehood – or Distrest Lovers, dated 1728, and it's the closest I will get to owning a Shakespeare Quarto.'

Even if Double Falsehood is a genuine adaptation of Shakespeare and Fletcher's lost play, Doran felt that it doesn't work as a play.

Gregory continued: 'There are at least three missing scenes in the Double Falsehood. We started looking around a bit and I realised that it had been based on an episode of Cervantes' Don Quixote.'

'I found a 1612 translation of Cervantes' Don Quixote by Thomas Shelton in a second-hand bookshop. It's the first English translation and is clearly the text that Shakespeare and Fletcher must have used in writing Cardenio in the first place. So I thought if there were missing bits in the eighteenth-century adaptation, maybe we can supply them with this.'

The more that Gregory continued his research, the more he found other sources. There was a Spanish play by Guillen de Castro, a French text called Les Folies de Cardenio by Pichou, and a play by Guerin de Bouscal who wrote for Moliere's company.

'So Cardenio was the subject of a lot of plays. Ours is a new piece. We're describing the process as re-imagining the play.'

'It has more script-writers than a Hollywood blockbuster. Everyone from Shakespeare, Thomas Shelton, Cervantes, Fletcher and Lewis Theobold, and just here and there, a little bit of me trying to join the dots.'

'It's a genuine collaboration – both with the actors we have now and with the authors who have looked at this story and turned it into a play over the years.'

'The nice thing is that in rehearsals, the play has achieved its own integrity and has stopped being for us an academic, literary detective story about which bits are Shakespeare, and has become a really invigorating and exciting play in its own right and you do get engaged with the stories, the Spanish code of honour and how the quartet of lovers negotiate their relationships.'

'It's fascinating to hear the actors relate to the play as a consistent whole and also notice how many Shakespearean resonances there are.'

Newcomer Oliver Rix plays Cardenio. Gregory Doran said: 'Oliver Rix, a 25-year-old graduate from Oxford University and LAMDA can't quite believe he's landed this major new role. But I believe he will bring something quite exceptional to the role. He's a very exciting new talent.'

The cast also includes: Maya Barcot (Nun), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Luscinda), Christopher Chilton (Priest), Liz Crowther (Duenna), Nicholas Day (Don Bernardo), Christopher Ettridge (Duke), Christopher Godwin (Don Camillo), Michael Grady-Hall (Shepherd), Alex Hassell (Fernando), Felix Hayes (Shepherd), Matti Houghton (Maid), Simeon Moore (Pedro), Harry Myers (Citizen), Pippa Nixon (Dorotea), Chiké Okonkwo (Gerardo) and Timothy Speyer (Master Shepherd).

Joining Gregory Doran on the creative team are: Niki Turner (designer), Tim Mitchell (lighting), Paul Englishby (music), Martin Slavin (sound), Michael Ashcroft (movement) and Terry King (fights).

For further information and interviews please contact Nada Zakula in the RSC Press Office on 01789 412622 or

For press tickets and regional enquiries please contact Dean Asker on 01789 412660 or

Notes to Editors:

  • Rehearsal photographs available on request from the RSC Press Office.
  • Production photographs will be available from from 18 April.

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