Don Gil of the Green Breeches (Don Gil de las calzas verdes- 1635)is the first in a series of three plays at the Arcola Theatre as part of the Spanish Golden Age Season – early 16th century to the late 17th century – celebrating the works of two of the most prolific playwrights of the era, Tirso de Molina and Lope de Vega. Tirso de Molina was a Catholic monk with an inborn sense of the theatrical, who built on the “free-and-easy” prescriptions that Lope introduced in the Spanish comedia by drawing inspiration from his own religious and philosophical interests, as well as his extensive travels. The world’s dramaturgy owes him for the creation of the libertine Don Juan (El burlador de Sevilla) who subsequently became one of the most famous characters in all literature through Molière’s play Dom Juan, ou le festin de pierre (1665) and W.A. Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787).
Don Gil of the Green Breechesis a farce with a complex and rapidly moving plot; Doña Juana of Valladolid is engaged to the dashing Don Martin who scarpers to Madrid to marry the much wealthier and socially superior Doña Inez. Doña Juana, instead of resigning herself to spinsterhood in a nunnery, dons the titular green breeches, adopts the alias that her former lover is now using to woo his Doña Inez and sets off to find him, prevent him from marrying and make him love her again. In the ensuing comedic chaos the spectator is treated to mistaken-identities, role-reversals, gender-swapping, bed-hopping, paranormal activity and the inevitable wrapped in a bow happy end. This is a 17th century comedy after all.
O’Brien brings the text into twenty-first-century English, even if a few of the jokes and modern day references are not always successful (Don Gill – pronounced “heel” in Spanish – like Harry Hill, wink!). Hedydd Dylan is a compelling Don Hill/Doña Juana; she keeps up with the pace and the complexity of the play brilliantly, and her mannerisms bring her roles to life. Katie Lightfoot’s spoiled and fickle Doña Inez has a hyperactive and neurotic quality about her. Quintana (Chris Andrew Mellon), Doña Juana’s trusted servant, delivers his vitriolic comments in perfect diction, never failing to entertain. Doug Rao’s Don Martin has mastered the swagger and mannerisms of a cad but his overall performance lacks depth.
A fast paced, enjoyable comedy that would have shocked with its audacity, when first staged and an excellent homage to the European repertoire.