The Spanish Tragedy

Wed 7th – Fri 9th November 2012


Emily Handley

at 01:22 on 8th Nov 2012



Upon entering the huge Gothic surroundings of King’s College Chapel, the audience could hear a solo violin playing a plaintive melody, creating a haunting atmosphere that would set the tone for the evening’s enactment of ‘The Spanish Tragedy’. Thomas Kyd’s play found a fitting venue in the expanse of the chapel, as the building proved to be an appropriate setting despite its opulence and large size. A sense of intimacy was successfully cultivated between the actors and the audience, which is testament to the talents of the cast and direction team.

The inclusion of a choir and an organ in the opening scenes, under the able direction of Heloise Werner and Mark Seow, enhanced the ethereal, otherworldly tone of the production. The singers also provided an original and heartrending accompaniment to the silent tableaux of death and sorrow towards the end of the play. The excellent Joey Akubeze, as the ghost of the officer Don Andrea, took over from the choir as he railed against the injustice of being murdered by Balthazar, the son of the Viceroy of Portugal, who has been captured by Spanish guards. He was aided by Olivia Emden, as Revenge, whose striking red costume and black netted veil combined with a commanding stage persona, as she stalked the chapel in her role as part of a chorus hell-bent on retaliation.

The royal houses of Spain and Portugal are dragged further into a cycle of hate and deceit as it emerges that the imprisoned Balthazar is in love with Bel-Imperia (Stephanie Aspin), the daughter of the Spanish king and queen, who was originally in love with Don Andrea against her family’s wishes. She soon develops affections for Horatio, the best friend of her brother Lorenzo. This is partially driven by a desire to avenge Don Andrea’s death, as he was murdered by Balthazar. Lorenzo subsequently persuades Balthazar to kill Horatio, after he successfully surmises that Horatio is Bel-Imperia’s lover. The horror of Horatio’s murder leads to further tragic occurrences, and elicits stand-out performances from James Parris and Mary Galloway, as his distraught parents Hieronimus and Isabella.

Hieronimus compares his son to a ‘sweet, lovely rose ill-plucked before thy time’ as he kneels next to Horatio’s body, capturing the terrible reality of bereavement and the realisation that he will outlive his child. He declares that he will ‘rip the bowels of the Earth’ in order to avenge the perpetrators of his son’s death, simultaneously conveying his abject grief and potent anger in an extremely skilful interpretation of the role. Isabella’s anguish at Horatio’s murder is brought out in Galloway’s impassioned belief for justice and retribution, as she declares time to be the ‘author both of truth and right, and time will bring this treachery to light. ‘

The tragedy of Horatio’s death permeates the production, as we see the playful Bel-Imperia stripped of her coquettishness to be consumed by crushing grief. Stephanie Aspin expertly communicated Bel-Imperia’s struggle to assert herself among the constraints of royal protocol and a highly masculine environment. She also expressed Bel-Imperia’s distress when she realises that her natural spiritedness will not suffice to save her and Horatio when they are betrayed by Lorenzo, whom she denounces as ‘not a brother, but an enemy’.

The acting and stage management were both close to professional quality, despite the cast being comprised of university students. The technical crew also showed expertise in creating an intriguing atmosphere through the constant interchange between shadowy darkness and light, while Niall Wilson’s superb direction ensured a slick change between scenes and a clear rapport between the cast members, as they all interacted very well with one another and used the stage to their advantage. The musical accompaniment slightly overpowered the dialogue at times, however this did not detract from the overall performance, as the actors’ eloquent body language and expressions conveyed their dexterity at plumbing the depths of their characters’ emotions, and this occurrence was very seldom throughout. The production was certainly very well-executed, which was further illustrated by the length and volume of the audience’s ringing applause as it drew to a close, echoing around the vaulted ceilings of the chapel.


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