Don Gil of the Green Breeches (Arcola Theatre)
Tirso de Molina's comedy kicks off the Spanish Golden Age season at the Dalston venue
Wherever he has worked – the Gate in Notting Hill alongside Stephen Daldry, at the RSC with Michael Boyd and now the Ustinov Studio at Danny Moar's re-energised Theatre Royal in Bath – the director Laurence Boswell has waged virtually a one-man campaign to unearth theatrical glories of the Spanish Golden Age.
This three-play season – two by Lope de Vega and one, this spirited farce of gender politics and social status, by Tirso de Molina – arrives from Bath for a nine-week stint at the Arcola before moving on to a third co-producing venue, the Belgrade in Coventry.
Don Gil of the Green Breeches is a trouser farce but not in the Brian Rix dropped-round-the-ankles department; it's much closer to a Shakespeare comedy that pre-dates it by twelve years, Twelfth Night. Donna Juana's supposed fiancé, the dashing Don Martin, has scarpered from Valladolid to Madrid in pursuit of wealthier, socially superior, prey, the fluttering Donna Ines. Of course, she follows the scoundrel to the big city, adopts a disguise and sets various cats among the palomas.
The central trio of flailing lovers is extravagantly well played by Hedydd Dylan, Doug Rao and Katie Lightfoot, but the killer "sexy" component is missing from Mehmet Ergen's otherwise efficient production. Paradoxically, this has the effect of exposing the qualities of the play further, and the poet Sean O'Brien's translation sounds not only authentic and accurate, but notably well-phrased, too.
That would not have escaped the attention of the translator/actor Simon Scardifield, a veteran of Ed Hall's Propeller company, who turns in a delicious, wry and funny performance as a local foppish booby, sulking in corners and adjusting his rosette thigh band just a centimetre or two before he blurts out his heart's instinct.
And there are two nicely weighted "old codger" stock performances from Jim Bywater as a bamboozled, fluffy retainer and William Hoyland as an authoritarian, gimlet-eyed father. At the centre of the action is the delightful conceit of several people similarly attired in the titular green breeches, and the Cesario/Olivia moment of girl-on-girl sexual charm and revelation.
Not least of the evening's pleasures – and, I imagine, the whole season – is the renewal of interest in this comparatively neglected and obviously inexhaustible part of the European repertoire (there are hundreds of these plays gathering dust on library shelves, dozens of them lost masterpieces); bravo Boswell, and well done the company of ten resourceful actors.