Lope de Vega in a new version by Tanya Ronder
Peribanez is a Spanish morality tale from the time of Shakespeare, which was also the Spanish Golden Age. Its author, Lope de Vega, sounds like the swashbuckling hero of a ludicrous adventure story. He was a poet, a sailor and a bigamist murderer, who at one time lived with four of his children, none of whom shared a mother.
Rufus Norris has set his production around the time of the Spanish Civil War which gives much scope to designer Ian McNeil and costumier Tania Spooner. The Young Vic has a large platform inserted which allows action to take place simultaneously in two separate places.
There is always an authentic rural feel as the locals play out their lives amidst age-old tradition with live music played onstage. Norris cleverly splits the classes. He very effectively uses English accents for the toffs and a Celtic selection for the peasants.
All seems idyllic at the opening as Michael Nardone's Peribanez marries the local beauty, Casilda (Jackie Morrison). Soon trouble arrives in the guise of the Commander of the district, The Flower of Spain played by David Harewood in a performance that brings to mind his Othello, as his character's tragic destiny beckons.
The great man is smitten by Casilda and, assisted by his lieutenants, plans to have his wicked way with her. When charm doesn't work, he choose the route of King David sending Peribanez off to war. Even then the path to his true love is anything but smooth as Casilda rejects him and her loving husband returns in the nick of time. Where Shakespeare would have allowed good and bad to die together, Lope de Vega chooses a more subtle, though still bloody, ending.
This is a lovely production with great acting from the three leads as well as Mali Harries as Casilda's cousin, Inez, and Mark Lockyer as a dryly humorous, caddish Leonardo.
Norris fills the production with clever touches. For example, he uses human mules and horses to great effect, never more so than when David Harewood is symbolically converted from haughty Commander to Peribanez' horse.
It is a real surprise that this well-constructed, entertaining play is not a staple in the United Kingdom and the Young Vic is to be congratulated for its resurrection.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different form
Reviewer: Philip Fisher