Ooh hello, it's the RSC's Cardenio
Oh dear, I am going to sound very crude and shallow but Cardenio should be renamed Phwoar Cardenio.
My appreciative eye for a fine male form was certainly satisfied with both young male leads Oliver Rix (Cardenio) and Alex Hassell (Fernando) ripping shirts of at various points during the play. Oh to have been the elderly gent seated in the front row towards whom Cardenio makes a desperate lunge (he looked like he was going to have a heart attack).
But was this so called lost play of Mr Shakespeare merely insubstantial eye-candy?
Thankfully, for the sake of my reputation if nothing else, the answer is no. The delicious Fernando is also a deliciously darkly comic moving through cheeky, caddish, scoundrel to villain and displaying a lack of scruples over doing what he knows is wrong which bounces just beyond reproach into amusement.
Cardenio has, somewhat ironically, been tasked with bringing wild ways under control and reporting back on any of his schemes and philandering.
It's a dark but fun play. Cardenio is a little straight but nonetheless elicits a certain amount of sympathy while Fernando is certainly the more colourful character. The female leads are nicely rounded. Luscinda is feisty enough to make for an interesting heroine and Doretea does feel like a woman who is a tragically trapped by her gender and class.
The simple staging with live musicians playing and singing traditional Spanish music can't be faulted. The performances were all convincing even if Briggs-Owen did annoy slightly by fidgeting with her costume in a way that implied she was uncomfortable in it.
I have two grumbles though. Firstly it felt as if Fernando bowed to his conscience a little too swiftly. And secondly, I didn't believe Dorotea's love for him particularly after the way he treats her. Their relationship is rather too rapidly set up at the beginning to really get the measure of it which may be the problem.
But they are only minor grumbles in what, overall, is a lively and enjoyable piece. I'm not going to enter the debate as to whether Shakespeare had a hand in writing Cardenio or not - I don't feel qualified to make an educated argument either way - and I really don't think it matters.
It's getting four stars from me and if it happens to transfer to London from Stratford, I know which seat I'll be booking.
Pippa Nixon was in Bea at the Soho Theatre with the lovely Al Weaver who played Hamlet for the performances when Ben Whishaw was resting and then small roles in the ensemble when he was.