The RSC's Spanish Golden Age season got off to a cracking start in April with Laurence Boswell's terrific production of Lope De Vega's The Dog in the Manger. Sadly, Tamar's Revenge, the second offering, is of a different pedigree.
Whatever problems prompted the deferral of the press night, originally scheduled in early May, seem not to have been fully resolved in a production which, despite the best efforts of the cast, remains a largely uninvolving affair.
The play, as the title indicates, is most definitely not a comedy. Written by Tirso De Molina, the basis of the story - the incestuous love of Amnon, eldest son of King David for his half-sister Tamar - is taken from the Book of Samuel.
The translation by the poet James Fenton is fleet enough for the most part - although some of the colloquialisms clunk - but the committed cast struggle with bringing the frequent and lengthy monologues to life. And Matt Ryan as Amnon is personable and passionate but rings little variety in his tempest.
Best of the bunch is John Stahl as King David who brings a real sense of authority. Katherine Kelly as Tamar grows in stature as her play wears on.
The setting is stark: three banks of spotlights cast harsh light on to a bare white stage over which a harp hangs. Minimal props come and go. Costumes vary from neo-Middle Eastern to present day 'smart but casual', while Tamar and her friend Dina are bizarrely clad in gymslips and black leather bra tops.
Without labouring the point; these simply do not make sense in the context of the play which is bound up, as with The Dog in the Manger, the very strong code of propriety which informs Spanish society at this time.
Even so, the sense of violence and violation when Amnon rapes Tamar at the end of Act Two in what is quite a graphic scene, brings the play shockingly to life. Members of the cast can also be seen in House of Desires and Pedro, the Great Pretender, which complete the season later this summer.
- Pete Wood