15 March 2014

Don Gil of the Green Breeches at the Arcola Theatre

Don Gil of the Green Breeches was the third play that I saw in Arcola's Spanish Golden Age Season, following on from Punishment without Revenge and A Lady of Little Sense. All three were wonderful.

As with A Lady of Little Sense the day before, I caught Don Gil on its last performance in London before the season moved on to Coventry. I also got to sit in much the same seat in the front row of the central block, thanks to some professional queueing.

Don Gil was a comedy of love but a far more complex one than A Lady of Little Sense had been. We were warned at the beginning to pay attention carefully and it is as well that I did!

Don Gil was actually a disguise adopted by a woman suspicious of her intended husband (also travelling under the assumed name of Don Gil) and she followed him to another city to keep an eye on him. There the woman who Don Gil's man was chasing fell in love with Don Gil who then professed his love for her female alter-ego. Other men became jealous of Don Gil because he had won the heart of the other woman and plans for revenge were hatched.

It then all got rather complicated with, for example, Don Gil writing a love letter to his female alter-ego only to have this stolen and read by somebody else. Other letters fell in to the wrong hands too and each twist of the plot forced Don Gil to conjure an even more elaborate plan to try and get his/her way.

This was the stuff of pure farce with mistaken identities, misunderstandings and much mischief. Various love lives got intertwined and it took some effort and a lot of luck to bring things to a happy conclusion.

As with the other plays in the series, the cast were brilliant and it was the continuous attention to detail that made it such a rewarding pleasure, detail such as the way that Simon Scardifield assiduously adjusted his garter whenever he went to see somebody.

To be harsh, Don Gil was the weakest of the three plays, possibly because it was written by Tirso de Molina whereas the other two were both by Lope de Vega, but that gives a false impression as it was still a very good performance indeed. It is just that the other two plays were even better.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Spanish Golden Age and have the utmost respect for everybody involved in producing it. To produce one good play may be regarded as chance and to produce two could be coincidence, but producing three is proof of genius.

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