“I may exaggerate beyond all sense and reason”
The third of the Spanish Golden Age plays for me was Punishment without Revenge – El Castigo sin Venganza – another Lope de Vega play but rather than the (not so) comic stylings of green breeches, this is a straight up tragedy and consequently emerges as the strongest of the lot. In the court of the Duke of Ferrara, an illicit passion builds up between the Duke’s bastard son Federico and Cassandra the Duchess of Mantua, the woman he is sent to collect to be a bride for his father. They submit to their urges when the Duke leaves for battle but on his return, the abuse to his honour must be avenged.
William Hoyland is excellent as the vituperative Duke, possessed of a deadly charm with the most vicious edges with some striking speechifying; Nick Barber’s handsome Federico pairs well with Frances McNamee’s Cassandra (a nice casting touch as they also portray lovers in another of the plays) as they pursue their doomed love in spite of the threat it poses to them; and even a lighter side is allowed to shine through the court shenanigans in the form of Simon Scardifield’s manservant and the blustering courtiers of Chris Andrew Mellon and Jim Bywater.
But in the midst of Mark Bailey’s lethal black set and striking costumes, it is the conflict between the sexual energy of the lovers and the prevailing social attitudes of noble propriety that powers this intensely played tragedy. As the Duke’s niece Aurora – loved by Doug Rao’s Marquis but loving Federico – Katie Lightfoot also embodies this central theme, emerging with possibly the performance of the night. Laurence Boswell’s direction makes its own virtue out of a relative simplicity, tracking a superbly emotive climax out of the drama.