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Reviewed by:
  • The Tragedy of Soliman and Perseda
  • Peter Kirwan
The Tragedy of Soliman and Perseda Presented by Trifle Productions, at the Rose Theatre, Bankside, London. April 26–May 1, 2010. Directed by Sophie Hickman. Editing and Textual Assistance by Luke Beattie. Fights by Gordon Kemp. With Israel Oyelumade (Soliman), Ben Galpin (Erastus), Cassandra Hodges (Perseda), Stephen Barden (Brusor), Carsten Hayes (Basilisco), Michael Linsey (Piston), Carly Jukes (Lucina, Crier), Eve Winters (Love), Kaye Conway (Fortune), Maya Thomas (Death), Mark Mansell (Philippo, Lord Marshall), Andres Ortiz (Ferdinando, Amurath, Witness), Alexander Devrient (Prince of Cyprus, Haleb, Witness), Sam Benjamin (Guelpio, English Knight), John Triggs (Julio, French Knight), and Steve Lee (Mule)

Paradoxically, one of the highlights of the first decade of "Shakespeare's Globe" was the theatre's attention to Shakespeare's contemporaries, reviving neglected plays alongside canonical plays for a popular audience. This aspect of the theatre's work has, regrettably, been sidelined under the directorship of Dominic Dromgoole. Yet around the corner, the Globe's less glamorous cousin continues Bankside's reclamation of the wider early modern repertory. By day the Rose is part of the Globe's exhibition and tour, an archaeological curiosity of lifeless foundations; but at night it opens its doors to young and amateur companies who, infected by the Rose's spirit of archaeological curiosity, are excavating forgotten Elizabethan plays including this, Thomas Kyd's Soliman and Perseda. [End Page 564]

Behind a narrow performance space constructed on a viewing gallery, the Rose itself was an evocative backdrop—a low-ceilinged cavern, extending back into darkness, with water dripping into a pool that filled the foundations. Illuminated in red, it became the hell from which Love, Fortune, and Death emerged to introduce the play. As a violin screeched below, the trio performed a series of stylized motions that evoked their conflict: Love fired darts that Fortune snatched out of the air; Death moved slowly, smiling and watching the others. The semi-playful physicality of the three belied the seriousness of their struggle, and tensions (particularly from Fortune, scowling and hunched) repeatedly flared up. The otherness of the framing device beautifully divided and impinged on the main action, with the trio physically manipulating human characters like puppets.

Played under stark house lights, Soliman and Perseda itself was unfussy and accessible, prioritizing textual clarity and modern characterization. A clear dichotomy was established between the modern dress of the Rhodesians and the period costume of the Turks, contrasting the relaxed—even spoiled—lives of the former and the honor-driven military culture of the latter. The distinction was further underlined by the adoption of appropriate national accents, though the actors' success with these was varied.

Surprisingly, the lovers Erastus and Perseda were initially rather un-sympathetic. Whiny, naïve, and selfish, their investment in superficial vows and objects here demonstrated their shared immaturity, which needlessly drove them apart in the opening acts. From being portrayed as weak together, the two grew to strength independently: Perseda developed confidence and resolve after Erastus's flight, while Erastus, no longer a simpering lover, demonstrated his fortitude in Soliman's court. After they were reunited, we caught a glimpse of their brief happiness as a mature couple in Rhodes, finally relaxed with one another. The effect was to invest us in their development and thus make their subsequent separation more poignant, yet appropriate: the lovers matured alone and died alone.

A raised screen at one end of the stage was used for silhouette work, with varying results: Perseda's final, disguised appearance on the battlements was extremely effective, both in physically depicting her defiance and in explaining Soliman's failure to recognize her. What worked for public scenes, however, failed for private: Soliman's asides during Erastus's execution were performed in silhouette, but gave him the unintended impression of a "Voice of God," booming across the stage and disrupting the flow of the action. Israel Oyelumade had a powerful presence, his movements [End Page 565] and voice filling the stage with authority. The Turkish court itself consisted of a simple throne, but Soliman's violent vaunting and tense physicality effectively conveyed the danger and instability of his rule.

The play was billed...


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