Three plays of the Spanish Golden Age of Theatre have been newly translated and are being presented in repertoire by Bath’s Theatre Royal and Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre. The company’s London season – which includes two plays by the great and amazingly prolific Lope de Vega – opens with a comedy by Tirso de Molina (1579-1648), directed by Mehmet Ergen.
The Golden Age was roughly from 1590 to 1681. Tirso claimed he had written over 300 plays. Don Gil of the Green Breeches, one of the eighty plays which have survived, was written in 1615. It’s a broad farce in which the heroine disguises herself as a man.
Actors have been dressing up as women on stage ever since theatre began. Actresses disguised as men (described as ‘breeches roles’) only began, in England at any rate, in plays in the Restoration era and was a splendid excuse for an actress to show her shapely legs.
They continued into the 20th century, surviving mainly in opera and in the music hall and in pantomime where the Principal Boy was always played by a young woman in men’s clothes.
Dona Juana (Hedydd Dylan) is deserted by her lover, Don Martin (Doug Rao), who intends to marry the rich Dona Ines (the lively Katie Lightfoot). Juana dressed up as a man, assumes the name of Don Gil, the name Martin is using to court Ines, and determines to woo and seduce Ines.
The comedy is rarely as funny as its reputation, even when four suitors arrive, all disguised in identical green breeches. Hopefully, the company’s Lope de Vega’s plays will prove to be a more rewarding theatrical experience.
by Robert Tanitch, Mature Times theatre reviewer