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1997rsc

Peter Happé on the 1997 RSC production:

'This rare opportunity to see one of the most frequently performed plays in Elizabethan times gives us much valuable evidence about the play's inherent qualities, and effectively makes the case for more productions of a remarkable play which has received far more attention from scholars than from directors. [...] Kyd's sense of tragedy has long been subject of scholarly investigation: the production showed that the play is full of tension and violence, and that the notion of tragedy is very specific in its relation to these.

The best scene in the play centre on the grief of Hieronimo, excellently played by Peter Wright, who made convincing both the agony of loss and the terrible emotional pressure which builds up over his frustrated desire for justice. In fact, Kyd writes rather ambiguously about revenge and justice, and the play is so constructed that the possibility of receiving justice is fatally embroiled with the dark, if not evil matter of the revenge. The production showed that these tensions could be very compelling, especially as the part of Hieronimo depends strongly on a number of agonised soliloquies which Wright performed very well. In these speeches Heironimo is a victim of revenge as well as a would-be perpetrator.

The production made very effective use of violence, though it also showed some of the problems of presenting it on stage. [...] The audience began to laugh, as though dismissing the truth of what was before them [...] when Bel-Imperia's letter was revealed to be written in her own blood. When Hieronimo showed it to the audience credibility was momentarily at risk. By contrast the terrible scene (IV.4) which enacted the tragedy of "Soliman" and showed the deaths of three characters was cleverly managed [...] by having the stage audience, neatly parcelled amongst the real audience, react with vociferous approval at what was shown before them and us, relishing, apparently, the skill with which these monstrosities were perpetrated, so that any mockery which might have emerged from the audience was suppressed. This being so, there was scope for the mounting sense of horror which worked well throughout this scene, culminating with Hieronimo's self-mutilation (which did cause some groans and shrieks in the real audience).

Structurally there were some marvellous moments, most of which depended upon the parallels between the fathers who lose their sons. These ranged through a variety of different characterisations from the extravagantly passionate Viceroy of Portugal (David Collins) to the strangely quiet but insistent Painter, Don Bazardo (Peter Reeves). Though most of the classical references [...] kept alive the sense of the Senecan torments, the effect was not one of impossible horrors so much as a remarkable build-up of psychological tension. This was further enhanced by the passionate playing of Bel-Imperia (Siobhan Redmond) and Isabella (Deirdra Morris) [...]

A further contribution was the managing of the figure of Revenge who is part of the frame-action whereby Don Andrea (well played by Patrice Naiambana) seeks revenge for his own death. [T]hese characters were not living people, and yet their speeches and actions betrayed a sense of the horror which living involves. Revenge himself was never fully visible, a masked figure who moved around the auditorium and did not come to rest in the whole performance... [T]he director took the last two lines of the play literally - "endless tragedy! (IV.4:48) - and at the end he made another character (Horatio) appear in the former role of Andrea seeking revenge, while Revenge showed himself, from behind the mask, to be Hieronimo, now dead and teaching the new victim the words of revenge which revenge had originally taught Don Andrea at the beginning of the play.

The production was not without its moments of grim humour, especially over the execution of Pedringano, but these always added to the horror which Kyd sought to convey. The theatricality of the text was also striking, especially as Hieronimo's role as the provider of entertainment was effectively evolved.'

RORD 37 (1998), 68-71