Theatre review: Punishment without revenge at the Arcola Theatre

punishment without revenge

punishment without revenge - Credit: Archant

Punishment without Revenge is one of three 17th century plays being shown at the Arcola Theatre for their Spanish Golden Age repertory season.

Lope de Vega’s play, known as the greatest tragedy of the Golden Age, has been given a modern and gripping translation by Meredith Oakes.

Previously shown at the Ustinov in Bath to high acclaim, this is a dark and thrilling drama which blends unbearable tension and delicious comedy which both terrifies and delights.

The Duke of Ferrara has lived a wild and unconventional life. A notorious womaniser, his only son, Federico, is illegitimate, but despite this fact the Duke dreams that one day the boy will succeed him. When his subjects demand that he marry and provide them with the stability of a legitimate heir, he vows to change the habit of a lifetime, and the proud and beautiful Cassandra, Duchess of Mantua, is sent to be his bride. From there a passionate love is set to develop – not between the Duke and the new Duchess, but between the Duchess and the hapless Federico who is sent to collect her and falls in love at first sight. Federico’s code of honour and loyalty to his father results in his subsequent depression and intense misery at being unable to pursue this forbidden love. But how long can he keep this up?

The best lines of the play undoubtedly go to the perceptive and long suffering servant, played with impeccable comic timing by Simon Scardifield. William Hoyland is excellent as the lecherous and powerful Duke who reverts to type immediately after marrying the young Duchess. And Nick Barber is cast well as the unfortunate Federico. Meanwhile Mark Bailey has put together the sumptuous costumes and all-black set which complement the piece perfectly.

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This is an engrossing story of honour, family, guilt and ultimately saving face. Well recommended as a taster of these glorious Spanish dramas.


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