The lusty lord who ravishes the new bride of his serf is an eternal story. The great Spanish playwright Lope De Vega, who is credited with dashing off no less than 800 plays, wrote a few of them about that.
As you’d expect from the Spanish, it’s the sort of story that explodes nicely into lots of bloody revenge and testosterone talk of honour.
Steal a bloke’s wife and even if she is a peasant it’s a bullfight waiting to happen.
This is the essential story of De Vega’s Peribanez, which is magnificently told in this production from Neil Armfield -“ even down to the real dirt pit in which the bulls eventually fight it out.
Captivating from the first scene is the village wedding of Peribanez and Casilda when each compares their love to the sensual joys of rural life.
On this real earth set, with the lovers tossing water from the village well, Armfield’s ensemble brings alive De Vega’s language celebrating romance and the love of simple rural things.
De Vega wrote Peribanez 400 years ago but this modern translation keeps the poetic vigour while driving the story forward and leaving room for modern characterisations.
Armfield and his designer Dale Ferguson set it perfectly in 1930s Spain, the expansive set of platforms and bags of grain spread across one whole side of the theatre.
As the lovers, Leeanna Walsman and Socratis Otto are itchy with lust and wonder, swimming in love and yet with a direct simplicity of expression. Into this peasant idyll stumbles the Comendador, who is smitten by Casilda. Marton Csokas plays him as a mad obsessive, a wonderfully camp performance which yet never rings false.
This is artful storytelling from Company B, an ensemble of admirable actors excelling in many different roles, some even as mules.
Together they have an impressive physicality, an individuality and yet also a unity of purpose. Fine musical punctuation from composer Alan John weaves through the production, much as it does through the life of a Spanish village.
Armfield often achieves this ensemble harmony even in one-off productions like this. The Sydney Theatre Company is still trying to find it with their ensemble of actors paid to work together for two years.
Peribanez is joyous and elemental theatre, as vital as earth and water.
Peribanez is at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre, until 20 August.