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Review: Spanish Tragedy at the Arcola

PUBLISHED: 17:20 29 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:10 05 October 2010

Stuffy film critics who see the death of civilisation reflected in horror films such as the Saw series would do well to remember that terrible scenes have always been depicted in art. Just take The Spanish Tragedy, a revival of Thomas Kyd s 16th century p

Stuffy film critics who see the death of civilisation reflected in horror films such as the Saw series would do well to remember that terrible scenes have always been depicted in art.

Just take The Spanish Tragedy, a revival of Thomas Kyd's 16th century play now showing at Dalston's Arcola theatre.

There are on-stage hangings, stabbings, suicides and copious bloodshed, with one grieving father even cutting off his own tongue before topping himself with a hari kari manoeuvre.

Don't let that put you off. This latest production is a hugely affective and poetic meditation on revenge.

The Elizabethans certainly lapped up Kyd's play when it was first performed in the late 1580s at The Theatre in Shoreditch.

It influenced two generations of dramatists including Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and was still regularly being performed up to the closure of the theatres in 1642.

Set in the Spanish court, it tells the story of the ghost of a young solider, Don Andrea, who enlists the help of Revenge to bring about the death of his conqueror, the Portuguese prince, Balthazar.

Meanwhile, Balthazar has been taken prisoner on the battlefield by the Spanish soldiers Lorenzo and Horatio.

Lorenzo turns out to be a scheming murderous Machiavell, who kills Horatio and sets in motion the sequence of horrifying events revolving around the love interest, the graceful Bel-Imperia.

Horatio's father, Hieronimo, who discovers his hanging son's carved up body, ponders a suitable revenge, and was no doubt figured largely in Shakespeare's mind when writing Hamley.

Director Mitchell Moreno brings the Arcola production up to date with some nice touches.

The decadent Spanish court is resplendent in designer suits, quaffing champers in nightclubs, whilst the underbelly of violence is played out in dimly lit garage forecourts.

The Portuguese viceroy gives his state-of-the-nation address on live television news, whilst conversations are secretly taped on Dictaphone rather than overhead by scheming ears.

Charlie Covell delivers a brilliantly sultry performance as Bel-Imperia, whilst Dominic Rowan's Hieronimo is affecting as the wronged father. The bloody conclusion (the play within a play, also nabbed by Shakespeare for Hamlet) is stunning.

The Spanish Tragedy is showing at the Arcola Theatre in Arcola Street until November 14. Performances start at 8pm.

Peter Sherlock

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