Re-imagining Cardenio

Week four already

February 25, 2011
Jaki Wilby leads the company in a flamenco lesson

Jaki Wilby leads the company in a flamenco lesson

It seems almost unbelievable, but we are starting our fourth week of rehearsals already. In the Cardenio rehearsal room, we are still mostly sitting around the table. Simon Callow in his book Being an Actor, describes this process beautifully, as we try to feel the play's aura, 'almost its force field.' It is a bit like sitting round a ouija board. The research we do is like lobbing a pebble into the collective pool of our unconscious and watching the ripples. Some research will be useful, some not so.

Last week we were joined by Antonio Alamo, our Spanish Dramaturg. Antonio runs the Lope de Vega Theatre in Seville, and is an author in his own right. He is also a Cervantes nut. I met Antonio at the Almagro Festival in La Mancha, when our production of The Canterbury Tales was on tour in Spain. The then director of the Festival, the Cuba-born firecracker Emilio Hernandez had brought together a series of Spanish theatre practitioners to discuss Spanish classical theatre, and it was he who suggested that Antonio might be very helpful in determining what direction we wanted to take Cardenio.

I visited Antonio in Seville in February 2008. We spent a concentrated couple of days trying to understand what the Cardenio episode meant in the context of Don Quixote; what the impact of the story might have been in seventeenth century Spain and how the central characters were regarded in that country today. All very illuminating. It made me realise that the plot in the Double Falshood had become rather thinned out. Frankly, by adapting the story for the sensibilities and tastes of his eighteenth century audience, Theobald had emasculated play, and we needed to put the Iberian 'cojones' back into it!

To see just what a bit of Spanish flare and passion could produce, last week, Antonio recommended a visit to the Flamenco Festival at Sadlers' Wells where some friends of his were performing. We watched the astonishing iconoclastic Israel Galavan spin flamenco into the twenty-first century. With just the help of David Lagos, a cante jondo (deep, serious vocal style) singer from Jerez, and his brother Alfredo, on guitar, he kept us on the edge of our seats for an hour and a half.

Gerard Brenan, in his book South from Granada, writes about singing of cante jondo, of music that has 'black sounds' in it, and of dancers whose feet can summon up the spirit of 'duende' (a hard to define concept in Spanish arts, a kind of heightened state of emotion in response to music, in particular). That I had witnessed before, but I was not expecting flamenco to make me laugh too, and that is part of Galavan's genius clapping out intoxicating rhythms, even at one point upon his teeth.

The entire acting company have been taking flamenco classes (even the Macbeth and Merchant company, for whom it is not directly relevant) with the inspiring Jaki Wilby so they are learning about how to concentrate and focus a passion that seems to rise from the ground. It is up to Mike Ashcroft, our choreographer, to translate that into a language that the actors can comprehend and master in the time we have. But even after one session last week, the company all seem taller. Perhaps, they are beginning to understand something about the Spanish people that Jan Morris describes beautifully in her book Spain when she says that the Spanish are more 'perpendicular' than any other nation.

Antonio Alamo spent his week in rehearsals, sitting and listening. Occasionally he would interrupt and explain precisely how important the word 'honour' is in Spanish culture, and at the same time, how Cervantes (in Don Quixote) deconstructed the nonsense that surrounded the code, in the book that was said to have destroyed a nation.

Or he would argue passionately why, for him, Dorotea is such a determined, strong woman who has no life in society if she does not recover her rightful place as Fernando's wife. Unless he honours his vows to her, she is a non-person in her world. He'd explain that what occasionally might seem black and white melodrama in Double Falshood, is complex and subtle in the novel, and argues that we embrace those nuances.

One night he visited the tiny Union theatre to see Phil Wilmott's fringe production of DoubleFalshood, and returns perplexed that they have staged one of the scenes which do not appear in that play. They make the Fernando/Henriquez's 'seduction' of Dorotea/Violante a violent rape, with the added insult of money being chucked at the victim as if she were no better than a prostitute. Antonio saw no textual evidence for this in either Theobald or Cervantes, and insisted that it diminishes the story. Although I applaud Phil Wilmott's chutzpah in mounting the play, I have chosen not to go to see the production, as I am right in the centre of rehearsals, but I can see Antonio's point.

Antonio has been invaluable in helping me to untie the convoluted plotting in DoubleFalshood, and to restore important story beats which render the characters journeys more complex, more satisfying, more 'Cervantian'. Perhaps more Shakespearian too, and certainly more Fletcherian.

If the keynote of this entire project is the spirit of collaboration, then Antonio has been one of its shining lights.

by Greg Doran  |  1 comment

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Mar 3, 6:34pm

A couple of years ago I was in Madrid with my girlfriend, and we wanted to see some flamenco. The only place we could find any was a restaurant with a 'meal-plus-flamenco' package. Wasn't exactly what we had in mind, and seemed a little expensive; but we were on holiday, so decided to give it a go.

I'm very glad we did.

After a lovely meal, we were ushered into a smaller back room that couldn't have been less inspiring if it tried. There was a small, black stage - more of a platform, really - at one end, and a group of performers, with nothing about them that created any more of an impression than the room itself.

Then they started to dance.

I've only just learned the word 'duende' from reading it above; but that was exactly what my girlfriend and I experienced: the performers summoned the spirit of Flamenco into the room, and shared it with us. One of the most deeply moving and impressive performances I've ever witnessed.

Capture even a little of that, and Cardenio could be very special indeed!

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