Peribanez - a magnificent collaboration between husband and wife, director and translator

I have never seen such vivid grace married to some dirty-finger-nailed farm hand.

The Commander

Mark Lockyer as Leonardo and David Harewood as the Commander (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Rufus Norris and the Young Vic under David Lan, have launched this vibrant production of Lope de Vega’s early seventeenth century play, Peribanez, about the virtues of rural life and a noble peasant who defends his wife’s honour against the odds.

Lope de Vega (1562 – 1635) was a prolific Spanish playwright with a fascinating life which itself would make an epic novel. Born into a family of craftsmen but orphaned at an early age, he went to university, was secretary to the Dukes of Alba and Sessa and sailed with the Spanish Armada against England in 1588. According to sources, Lope was a poet, a keen gardener, the husband of two wives and the father of from six to fourteen children. He later joined the priesthood and the Inquisition. He wrote over 900 plays, 400 of which are still in existence. When he died, his state funeral lasted nine days. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Many of Lope’s themes were picked up by his countryman, Calderon de la Barca (born 1600), who in turn was inspired later French playwrights. Both Calderon and Lope were rediscovered by the German Romantic movement in the nineteenth century.

While Tanya Ronder’s modern translation has preserved the lyricism of the original, she makes no attempt to recreate the verse. Her translation has a natural fluidity and the skill is in it not sounding like it was written first in another language. Nor does Ronder use seventeenth century speech patterns. I was conscious of how redolent the text is of Spain: all those wonderful references to the smell of lemon verbena and myrtle.

Many Spanish plays of this period are concerned with duty, honour and loyalty and Peribanez is no exception. It is a celebration of peasant culture, showing the moral integrity of the dutiful peasant. Its tale of an overlord, the Commander (David Harewood) who threatens to take as his mistress the beautiful Casilda (Jackie Morrison) wife of a peasant farmer Peribanez (Michael Nardone) after the Commander is gored by a bull and carried to their home. With the help of his aide de camp, Leonardo (Mark Lockyer), the Commander plots to send Peribanez to war leaving Casilda unprotected.

Rufus Norris’ opening scene reminded me of a pinata. As a paper screen, which covers the wedding scene played in shadow, is cut through to reveal the couple, Peribanez and Casilda. Ian MacNeil’s design is a red swathe of an asymmetrical platform which traverses the stage, a stairway at one end, a platform above. It allows the villagers to gather in the background ever present, showing the hubbub of village life. There is the music of the village, the noise, even the animals, donkeys and horses played by people. The set also allows the Commander to play above the throng of the peasantry as do the King and Queen in the problematic final scene. Played in modern dress, it is interesting to see how little life has changed for the peasant farming class. The third act has quite a lot of directorial tongue in cheek humour as we arrive at the rather inevitable triumph of good over lust.

The play was written to please an audience not of noblemen but of farmers so Peribanez behaves with honour throughout. However in order to meet and be absolved of his crime by the royal couple, here played as a kind of Prince Edward and Sophie, Duchess of Wessex, (Gregory Fox-Murphy and Rhiannon Meades), Peribanez has to be knighted. I was fascinated by the Queen’s offer to Casilda to give her some dresses – “Four, should be enough, ” she says.

A most interesting production of a rare play.

Production Notes


Written by Lope da Vega

Translated by Tanya Ronder

Directed by Rufus Norris



David Harewood

Mark Lockyer



Michael Nardone

Jackie Morrison

Mali Harries

Paul Hamilton

Rhiannon Meades

Jason Baughan

Robert Willox

Michael O’Connor

Gregory Fox-Murphy

Vincent Patrick

John A Sampson 



Director: Rufus Norris

Designer: Ian MacNeil

Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher

Music: Orlando Gough

Sound Designer: Paul Arditti

Movement: Scarlett Mackmin



Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval

Closed  7th  June 2003


Old Vic

The Cut


London SE1 

Rail/Tube: Waterloo

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Young Vic

on 7th May 2003

David Harewood as the Commanderb (Photo: Geraint Lewis and the Guardian)