“What’s your disguise for?”
The signs were there, I just chose not to see them. The main one being that the author of Don Gil of the Green Breechesor Don Gil de las Calzas Verdes was Tirso de Molina, who also wrote Damned By Despair, otherwise known as one of the biggest car crashes at the National in a goodly while. But I didn’t investigate too much – I allowed myself to be seduced by the notion of an ensemble performing new translations of three neglected plays from the Spanish Golden Age and the murmurings of good reviews from Bath where they opened last year.
But suffice to say that Don Gil did not do it for me. A broad cross-dressing comedy of sledgehammer subtlety, one can identify some similarities with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which preceded this play by about a decade, but what is more notable is the poor comparison that it makes. The plot twists endlessly and mindlessly through a set of baffling contrivances and clearly cognisant of this, Tirso de Molina has one character or another recap just where we’re at at the beginning of what feels like every scene, there’s nothing but exposition and it is still clear as mud.
Doña Juana is all of a tizz at the start of the play because, as she laboriously explains, her intended Don Martin has disappeared from her bed and made tracks to the wealthy Doña Ines instead. As her honour has been taken but no husband there for the taking, Juana decides to follow Martin to Madrid to get to Ines before him. Naturally, he had decided to go in disguise – masquerading as the titular Don Gil – and so Juana also decides to present herself as Don Gil with the intention of gazumping him in Ines’ bed. Whilst here, she also toys with the affections of Ines’ cousin, Doña Clara.
Farcical comedies don’t always have to make complete sense to be funny but to be honest, it does help. And so much of the action here is incomprehensible, the motivations questionable at best (especially as far as the treatment of Clara goes) and the humour somewhat laboured. Sean O’Brien’s translation does its best, working in references to Benny Hill as a pronunciation guide, and there were many more laughs from elsewhere in the audience, so Mehmet Ergen’s production – a co-production between the Arcola, the Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Bath and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry – clearly hits the mark for some people, just not me.