- Posted by Jonny hough
- On September 10, 2016
By Duncan Wheeler
In April 2016, the third-third edition of the academic cycle of Almeria’s Classical Theatre Festival took place in the neighbouring coastal resort of Roquetas de Mar. The brain child of secondary school teacher and theatre practitioner Antonio Serrano, the University of Almeria took on a more active role this year. Noelia Iglesias Iglesias, a rising star of a new generation of Spanish philologists championing a performance-based approach to Golden Age drama, co-ordinated the academic programme, complemented by the opportunity to watch a series of theatrical productions including Lope de Vega’s recently discovered play, Mujeres y criadas, staged by the Madrid based Fundación Siglo de Oro and co-directed by Laurence Boswell, former associate director at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I was delighted to accept an invitation to deliver a keynote address on the casting of actresses in male roles in recent English- and Spanish-language productions of Golden Age drama. As a result of actresses being allowed to perform on the Spanish Early Modern stage, their classical tradition features a range and depth of female roles absent from the Shakespearean canon. There is, therefore, less of a perceived need for the kind of cross-dressing casting that has been increasingly prevalent in the UK over recent years; I am, for example, thinking of Maxine Peake’s performance as Hamlet in 2014. Having said this, the most commercially and critically successful Spanish production of a classical play to be staged in recent years had Almodóvar regular Blanca Portillo take on the role of Segismundo in Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño, the play often referred to as “the Spanish Hamlet”.
A beautiful seventeenth-century castle hosting an exhibition of costumes made by Cornejo tailors for theatrical productions, television series and period films such as El perro del hortelano and Shakespeare in Love providing a fitting setting for convivial debate around the issues raised by the performance of classical drama in the present-day, alongside issues of theatrical exchange between Spain and the United Kingdom just days before the twin centenaries of the respective deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Scholarships were provided for undergraduates from Andalusia’s state universities to attend, whilst we were collectively billeted in the Hotel Playacapricho. Honouring its name, it was the first and I fear last time I’ve seen bingo in the swimming pool coincide with spirited discussions on extant editions of seventeenth-century manuscripts. I certainly can’t envisage this happening in Stratford-upon-Avon anytime soon, more’s the pity.
Duncan Wheeler is Associate Professor in Spanish at the University of Leeds, and Visiting Fellow of St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford. His publications include Golden Age Drama in Contemporary Spain: The Comedia on Page, Stage and Screen (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012). He is Hispanic Editor for Modern Language Review, and Series Editor of the book series Spanish Golden Age Studies for Peter Lang International Publishers. Jornadas de Teatro Clasico in Almeria