The actors must have loved doing this one. A three-hour justification of their art, full of in-jokes on acting and impersonation, and with the added imprint of the Spanish Golden Age to give it that added cachet.
But, in truth, you’d have to be hard-hearted not to enjoy this 17th century romp, as Pedro, a social chameleon with the gift of the gab – like an Hispanic Rory Bremner crossed with Del Boy - lets loose his charms on an assorted mixture of royalty, gipsies, priests, religious fanatics, local dignitaries, actors and conmen.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about the work is how modern it seems, with an episodic structure far removed from our concept of classical Spanish theatre. It doesn’t always work, some episodes seem more coherent than others. And there’s a revelation in the plot that telegraphed from an early part of the play.
But these are minor quibbles. There’s an excellent translation by Philip Osment, full of verve and humour, swaying between the 17th century original and the 21st century vernacular with ease.
John Ramm as Pedro holds the whole piece together superbly. He flits from situation to situation, supremely confident in his ability to survive any of life’s vicissitudes. He’s a very modern hero: he fits in easily with kings and commoners and there’s a skewed moral compass. It’s most indicative that he retains his charm, even when conning an old women out of her life savings.
Ramm stands out in a superb display of ensemble acting, the whole company seems to relish the entertainment, and director, Mike Alfreds, keeps everything going at a cracking pace.
On press night, when Pedro makes his closing speech about actors bringing dead authors to life, there was a palpable sense of self-congratulation among the actors – although the ghost of Cervantes was nodding his approval.
- Maxwell Cooter
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from September 2004 and this production's original run in Stratford-upon-Avon.
As the reign of Spain draws to a close at Stratford, the results, in the main, have been a plain success, Tamar's Revenge aside. And Pedro, the Great Pretender, the fourth and final offering to be unveiled in the Spanish Golden Age, provides a suitably rousing and enjoyable finale.
Many of the cast who triumphed in The Dog in the Manger and House of Desires - including the excellent Simon Trinder and Joseph Millson - also feature here in this episodic offering by Cervantes, which is directed here by Mike Alfreds, founder of the Shared Experience company.
Like its companion pieces in this season, Pedro doesn’t convince me that what I was watching was great drama. Enjoyable certainly, but essentially two-dimensional. However, in this new translation by Philip Osmond, largely rhymed, the play is fleet and genuinely witty.
The production, which runs for just under two-and-a-half hours, excluding the break, consists of 13 episodes from the life of Pedro, a “master chameleon whose picaresque escapades involve him with royalty and peasants, gypsies and actors, courtiers and shepherds, village bigwigs and religious devotees as he struggles to find his true vocation in life”, as the programme has it.
John Ramm, also seen in The Dog in the Manger, is spot-on as the title character, full of guile, a man from whom words come, as Wodehouse has it, like bees out of a barn. During the course of the play, he turns his hand to a string of occupations, gypsy, actor and, best of all, legal adviser.
Befriending Crespo, newly-elected mayor, Pedro guarantees the intellectually-challenged incumbent Socratic success in his role as the adjudicator of disputes with two dozen sentences. Placed in a hood, “the first one that comes to hand will answer every demand,” he assures him.
Also like the season’s other offerings, Pedro wisely isn’t overburdened with props. The setting is here updated to Victorian times, with a judicious use of music music director Michael Tubbs adding to the jollity. Bowing out, Pedro observes that the evening has been “wrought with artifice and artful splendour”. Happily he isn’t wrong. An antidote to the long nights drawing in.
- Pete Wood