26 January 2011
By Tilly Michel
Double Falsehood by William Shakespeare. Never heard of it? Not to worry.
This play first emerged on the theatrical scene in 1727, over a century after Shakespeare’s death, when it was produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane by the dramaturge Lewis Theobald.
Theobald’s controversial claim, that he had formed Double Falsehood from the manuscripts of a long lost Shakespeare play, were met with derision by his literary contemporaries, whose brutal criticisms caused the play to fall quickly into obscurity.
In recent years however, new evidence has emerged suggesting that Theobald’s script is not as fraudulent as his slanderers would have you believe. Modern academics have concluded that Double Falsehood was indeed penned, at least in part, by the Bard. And in 2010 the play was added to Arden’s Complete Works.
This naturally sparked a great amount of debate amongst scholars and tweeters alike. And it is with this polemic in mind that director, Phil Willmott, has brought Double Falsehood to Southwark’s Union Theatre. So is the play kosher or counterfeit? It’s up to us to decide.
Willmott has set and costumed this revival in the 1950‘s era, a move which ties in nicely with the play’s central themes of class anxiety. His minimalist set and precise use of sound generate an impressive intensity within the small theatre, especially during the moments of physical and psychological violence.
Particularly effective is the staging of the servant Violante’s rape by the licentious Lord Henrique. Henrique, played as a compulsive sociopath by the talented Adam Redmore, writhes schizophrenically between guilt and sexual desire as he performs and then relives the assault. Redmore stumbles through the audience, physically enacting the twisted state of Henrique’s conscience as he vainly attempts to placate himself.
Other interesting points include the dynamic between love struck Leonora (Emily Plumtree) and her overbearing mother (Sue Douglass). Willmott, employing a rather large dollop of artistic license, has personally altered this relationship from paternal to maternal, switching the sex of Don Bernardo and thereby giving the mother/daughter exchanges an added edge of brittleness.
However, despite being well directed, Double Falsehood remains fraught with problems. The second act rambles into the absurd, with characters jumping haphazardly between increasingly bizarre and tangled scenes. In one particularly memorable moment, the hapless Leonora is, for absolutely no apparent reason, forcibly smuggled out of a nunnery in a coffin.
You could argue that these idiosyncrasies are reminiscent of other Shakespearean ‘problem plays’ such as Measure for Measure and All’s Well that End’s Well. But, as the director himself points out, Double Falsehood somehow lacks the poetic insight that smoothes over the lumps and bumps of Shakespeare’s better known texts.
Our reluctance to authenticate this play could, of course, be further evidence of our society’s irrational deification of Shakespeare. Surely even a genius can sometimes get it wrong? Perhaps, but I’ll leave it for you to deliberate. Either way, this entertaining and inventive new revival is sure to add heat to the debate.
The Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, London SE1 OLX until 13 February 2011
Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm - Sundays at 4pm (30 Jan, 6 & 13 Feb)
Tickets £15 First two weeks only: 10 x £5 tickets per performance available to U21s.
Book Online: http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/uniontheatre
Box Office: 0207 2619 876.
1. At 06:59 PM on 26 Jan 2011, John W. Kennedy wrote:
Congratulations! This is the very first newspaper account of the Double Falshood affair that I've seen (and I've seen a great many in the last ten years) that didn't get any of the established facts wrong! This writer deserves an immediate rise in pay.
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