Planet Theatre

The Spanish Tragedy

This seminal ‘revenge drama’ was written by Thomas Kyd, who was an established writer at the Rose Theatre on the south bank of the Thames at the time when young William Shakespeare was learning his theatrical craft. Indeed it is probable that Shakespeare took part in the original production, and his early plays show a great deal of influence not only from Kyd’s ‘horror story’ methods, but even from actual incidents in the play itself. One critic wrote: “The story is told simply, held together by the symbolic figure of Revenge (Sean Garvey) emerging from a cloud of smoke, while judicious cutting ensures that a modern audience doesn’t lose the will to live. Hieronimo (Hayward Morse), a father distraught after his Spanish war-hero son, Horatio (Barra Collins), is killed by a foppish Portuguese love rival Balthazar (Nik Choulman) and the king’s evil nephew Lorenzo (Richard Gee), sets out to achieve revenge, tortured by his moral conscience versus his seething passion for old-fashioned bloody justice. He is abetted by the imperious princess Bel-Imperia (Rosie Langland), as imaginative deaths rack up, by dagger, pistol, poison, and, spectacularly, a hanging from a tree.” The principal role of Geronimo became a classic role from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth, rating with King Lear as one of the heights of the dramatic repertoire for all major actors.

We felt very privileged to be presenting The Spanish Tragedy actually at the site of its original performance – the remains of the Rose Theatre on the South Bank, just a few yards from the more-prosperous Globe. Now an English Heritage property, with acting area and audience crammed into a very limited space, the atmosphere of former glories is still omnipresent, inspiring our own actors with a particular frisson. Echoes of Hamlet, and of Twelfth Night occur in the text, with the crowning revenge action taking place during the performance of a ‘play within a play’, when, as Geronimo dies by biting out his own tongue, the stage is left strewn with corpses. Stirring stuff!


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Too Clever By Half