“Where words fail, violence prevails”
You enter the Old Red Lion for Thomas Kyd’s Elizabethan revenge thriller The Spanish Tragedy to find that Dexter Morgan has been on the case. Lizzie Leech’s design for the auditorium has it bleached out in antiseptic white, meat hooks hanging front and centre, strips of opaque plastic hanging from the ceiling facilitating the swift despatch of bodies. For there’s a goodly deal of despatching that needs to be done by the time this bloodthirsty lot is done.
Dan Hutton’s production condenses the text down to 85 minutes (and presumably even less, given “additional material by the company” is also credited) but the frame of the story remains intact, with a nifty bit of gender-swapping to boot. Lorenzo (maybe) loves Balthazar who loves Bel-Imperia who loves Horatio, so Lorenzo has Horatio killed which doesn’t sit too well with Hieronimo, his mother who vows revenge. But not Revenge, who is also present in human form along with a ghost called Andrea.
All clear? Good! The streamlining of the plotting has been mercilessly done but what is gained in clarity is perhaps lost in characterisation, there’s little chance to really appreciate the inter-relationships onstage. It’s one thing not to be bogged down with endless subplots, it’s another altogether to not really understand why brother and sister are opposed so. And as admirable the fidelity to the text is, it doesn’t always feel like the ideal conduit for this production.
This is nowhere more clear than in the arresting play-within-the-play which seems to coalesce Hutton’s thinking at its best, and also releases a vivacity from some of the performers which isn’t always apparent elsewhere. And there is much that works well in the show – the striking use of the colour blue, the crunching industrialist score by Kieran Lucas, Leo Wan’s demonic playfulness as Revenge, Lee Drage’s generally highly appealing existence, this particular Spanish Tragedy just doesn’t always feel like the ideal vehicle for them.