For a play that changed the theatrical landscape forever, The Spanish Tragedy is rarely performed in the twenty-first century. Thomas Kyd's gory masterpiece is a meditation on revenge, and inspired Hamlet with its meta-theatricality, treatment of madness, and philosophising. Theatre may be forgetting the debt it owes Kyd's play, but Lazarus Theatre are doing sterling work in jogging its memory.
The drama begins with the ghost of Andrea, a Spanish courtier (Joseph Emms) wishing vengeance on his murderer, the captured Portuguese prince Balthazar (Jamie Spindlove). However, Balthazar is treated remarkably well by the Spanish court, and begins plotting with Lorenzo (James Peter-Bennett) to wed Andrea's former love, Bel-Imperia (Felicity Sparks). Bel-Imperia has other ideas, and means to torment her sweetheart's murderer by instead bestowing her affections on Horatio (Adam Cunis), who is promptly murdered by Balthazar and Lorenzo. It is then up to Horatio's father Hieronimo to take revenge and put an end to all the foul play with a foul play of his own, staged before the court.
If this sounds complicated, then it is made much easier by this lucid interpretation of the play. The production emphasises Kyd's treatment of performativity by opening with a series of warm-up games, which escalate into the piece itself. Because of this, Lazarus Theatre's uninterrupted 140 minutes of Elizabethan theatre is surprisingly pacey. The superb lighting design by Miguel Vicente, as well as the striking blocking of the actors, create a distinctive spectacle that both draws the eye and titillates the mind.
Director Ricky Dukes adapts some elements of the original text. Notably, Hieronimo (Danny Solomon) is reimagined as Horatio's brother rather than father. Lines are amended accordingly, although I'm not sure why this change of familial relation was deemed necessary. However, Solomon is a strong Hieronimo whose scruffy Northern demeanour adds to his increasing alienation from court.
Also worthy of notice is Roseanna Morris as the King of Spain, who bases her engaging performance on the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Spindlove's Balthazar is rather eclipsed by Peter Bennet's delightfully wicked Lorenzo, but the real star of the show is Felicity Sparks, whose energy as Bel-Imperia lights up the production.
The play's murderous edge descends into a deliciously macabre farce (rewritten by Dukes), but the entire piece is provocative as well as stupendously good fun. Lazarus Theatre has lived up to its name by bringing this lost classic off the page and onto the stage where it belongs.