AK67 in association with Charles Court Opera
Rosemary Branch Theatre
This new play, the first its author has had produced, is set in Spain in the reign of King Ferdinand. I'm not sure which one. I'd make a guess it could be the fifteenth-century one they called the Catholic but a better historian than me might notice references to prove me wrong. It is mainly a two-hander between a soldier on the run and a gypsy girl. He seems to be a deserter, though there is more to it than that, and she, we eventually discover, has been disowned by her family. In a way they are both outsiders.
He plays the trumpet and, since she dances, she sees he could be the solution to some of her problems: as a musician he can attract attention and play while she performs. As well as what they collect then, they can attract customers for story-telling, fortune-casting and selling whatever they have to trade. He takes no time at all to fall in love with her. The script and the performances suggest he really does but the author's intention may be to suggest he is just as much an opportunist. He has a better idea of what his future might be than her and he could be just after a shag - as he warns her every other serving soldier will be. We certainly get a lot of rumpy-pumpy, though it happens fully clothed and a series of black-outs hide orgasmic moments.
The style of writing nevertheless suggests that the author does not want us to read it so cynically but to treat this as a romantic love story for it tends to the literary, scattered with one line aphorisms and without the colloquial elisions of such expressions as don't -- it is always delivered as two words. Though both characters have presumably been on the road and living rough they are beautifully clean and neatly dressed, which also makes this seem an artificial fairytale rather than a piece of real life. Despite what may have happened to them, the actors do give them a good-looking charm, making their sexual appetite seem pure youthful eagerness, rather than a girl who has already been forced into prostitution seducing a twenty-year old virgin or suspecting that he actually is not.
Everything takes place in a hay loft. James Perkins' setting, a wooden slope rising to a wall of planks flanked by an irregular strip that could represent clouds or landscape, looks beautiful in the warm lighting of Sally Ferguson. The top of a ladder rises through the floor and the cast do a splendid job of suggesting they have climbed from below despite there being no space in this theatre to do so and a few wisps of straw about the place that stick to clothing stop things from being completely squeaky clean.
To entertain the soldier Gypsy Emina (Alex Topham Tyerman) tells three stories, stolen from the Arabian Thousand and One Nights, a story sequence from the 18th century Pole Jan Potocki and one, which gives this play its name, from Boccaccio's Decameron: The Falcon.
The latter is about a man who squanders his wealth in an attempt to gain the affection of a married noblewoman. When she is widowed and goes to live near this man's farm her son becomes his friend and is much taken with the falcon, a cherished possession and all that remains of his wealth. When the boy is sick he tells his mother if he had the falcon he would get well, so his mother goes to ask for it. Its owner wants to offer her hospitality but has no food and so kills and cooks the falcon. Only after unknowingly eating it does she make her son's request. Too late. Her son dies, though the widow does later marry the farmer.
Presumably we are to find not only a moral but a parallel here, though I could not see a clear one. Perhaps Emina is simply suggesting that out of the disaster of their previous lives they could make a happy new one together or, as the story unfolds further, are we somehow to see the soldier Alphonse (Tom Warner) as the falcon?
Until very near the end, when another character appears, played by Paul Mooney bringing a sense of a real person with him, there is little dramatic development. Klempner can turn a good phrase but seems unclear of purpose. The musical interventions by Anthony Aarans on trumpet and Melanie Henry on Saxophone made a welcome change. David Sutton-Anderson's music is very pleasing but there is not much that is Spanish about it and would not a gypsy dance something more like flamenco rather than the rather balletic courtly style she presents?
On their first encounter Alphonse calls Emina a rabbit and she teases him that he is still a boy and tells him that he has the body of a man but the eyes of a goat; he talks of the king being surrounded by illegitimate princelings (which probably means it's not Ferdinand II). It looked as though we could be in for some Thomas Mendip and Jennet Jourdemayne fireworks and language but there is not really any argument between them or in the play. John Savournin's production looks lovely but it doesn't disguise the fact that this play is going nowhere for most of its hour and a half plus interval.
At the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 21st November 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton