The Cid 1986 - 1987

Tour Information

The play is set in Seville, the capital of Andalucia in southern Spain. Don Fernando, the King, to deter attempts by the newly expelled Moors to regain their lost province, has moved his court south.

The King’s right hand man and commander of his armies is the Count, Don Gomez. The King is to choose a tutor for his son and the Count takes it for granted that this position of honour will be given to him.

Don Gomez’s daughter. Chimena, is pursued by a number of young men but is in love with only one; Don Rodrigo. Don Rodrigo’s father, Don Diego, once occupied the same position as Chimena’s father. He is proud of his past and expects much of his only son.

The King’s daughter, the Infanta, has been encouraging the growing love between Chimena and Don Rodrigo for her own private reasons.

The British premiere of the stage version, specially commissioned by David Bryer. Produced by Cheek By Jowl.

Venue City Country Date No of Performances
Seagull Theatre Lowestoft UK 12/09/86 2
Fermoy Centre King’s Lynn UK 16/09/86 3
Central Studio Basingstoke UK 25/09/86 2
Mansion House Dublin Ireland 02/10/86 4
Old Town Hall Hemel Hempstead UK 07/10/86 1
Stahl Theatre Oundle UK 10/10/86 1
Gulbenkian Theatre Canterbury UK 13/10/86 3
Wilde Theatre Bracknell UK 17/10/86 1
Gardner Centre Brighton UK 22/10/86 1
The Theatre Chipping Norton UK 29/10/86 1
Spring St Theatre Hull UK 03/11/86 1
Arts Centre Stamford UK 11/11/86 1
Georgian Theatre Richmond UK 13/11/86 4
Drama Centre Fareham UK 18/11/86 2
Arts Theatre Cambridge UK 20/11/86 1
Woughton Centre Milton Keynes UK 26/11/86 1
Midland Arts Centre Birmingham UK 28/11/86 2
The Theatre Chipping Norton UK 29/11/86 2
Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds UK 01/12/86 4
Stanwix Arts Centre Carlisle UK 11/12/86 2
Rose Theatre Kidderminster UK 17/12/86 1
Ashton Theatre Shrewsbury UK 19/12/86 1
Donmar Warehouse London UK 19/01/87 24
Swan Theatre Stratford Upon Avon UK 23/02/87 4
Mary AskhamElvira
Keith BartlettDon Gomez
Patricia KerriganChimena
Anne WhiteThe Infanta
Melina McGrawLeonora
Patrick RomerDon Diego
Aden GillettDon Rodrigo
Stephen SimmsDon Arias
David MorrisseyDon Alonzo
Hugh RossThe King
Timothy WalkerDon Sancho

DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
Composer / Musical DirectorJoanna MacGregor
Lighting Designer and Company ManagerAlex Starr
Costume SupervisorLouise Page
Costume makersKeith Bish, Hilary Boulton
(click to expand)

The Observer

Cheek by Jowl, the young theatre company which last year performed the professional English language premiere of Racine’s ‘Andromaque’, in the process turning it into a kind of Hollywood film noir about France in the treacherous reckoning of allegiances after the Second World War, has now given us Corneille’s ‘Le Cid,’ or rather, The Cid (Fermoy Centre, King’s Lynn, last week; Central Studio, Basingstoke, this Thursday and Friday; thereafter a long autumn tour, ending at the Donmar Warehouse in the New Year).
This, too, is claimed as a British premiere (letters, please, to Cheek by Jowl, not The Observer) three centuries almost to the month after its sycophantic dedication to Richelieu’s niece and early performances at the court of Louis XIII. As an historical curiosity alone it should not be missed, but it is more than that: urgent, intimate, conversational and austere, confirming Cheek by Jowl as current brand-leaders in the British Anti-Rhetoric School.
Any resemblance between David Bryer’s new English version, directed by Declan Donnellan, and the gruff, blue-eyed spectacle crooned to packed houses by the Renaud-Barrault company in Paris last year, is confined entirely to the outlines of the plot. Since this is one of the things that has kept a masterpiece of dramatic poetry off our stages for so long whilst compelling us to study it from the safety of our colleges and schools, is worthwhile recalling what these are.
Hero’s father is insulted by heroine’s father who is then killed by hero in duel. Heroine loves hero, but demands justice from king who finds her code of honour obsolete and would like to keep hero intact to fight Moors, since this is what hero does best. King’s daughter also loves hero, but judges him unworthy of her until he has killed a great number of Moors, whereat (surprise) he becomes very worthy indeed.
King fudges the matter exquisitely in a manner which foreshadows the onset of absolute monarchy in Corneille’s France, allows the possibility of further suffering for the lovers, gives the tragedy a sort-of-happy ending and the playwright himself a hell of a lot to answer for on charges of structural impropriety to the biddies of the new Academie. Improper Brits will only regret that he did not go further.
Bryer uses a pragmatic mixture of verse-forms, rhyming only to make a point more strongly; much of the (cut) text makes the effect of speakable prose. If he is occasionally clever-clever (‘I’m trapped/I think surrender to death more apt’) he is in general succinct (‘I hunt a killer/When he turns, I see the man I love ’) and properly declines to call attention to himself. The famous outburst of the hero’s father on the freshly experienced humiliations of old age is characteristic. Bryer renders ‘O rage ! O desespoir ! O vieillesse ennemie !’ as ‘ O rage! I could rage! Useless, senile hands! ’, thus liberating a clutter of abstract nouns with one verb of impotent action, and combining the formal with the everyday.

It is characteristic of Donnellan’s production, too. He domesticates French classical drama, relishing its noble and bitter ironies as, common to most experienced forms of family and public life.
The trick is to identify and animate a theatrical world within which spectators, actors and narrative sequence can breathe to the same rhythms and slightly apprehensive pulse. It is a wholly English pulse; there is no attempt to make anyone look or sound Spanish or French. Extravagant offers of archaic revenge are mocked, even by the heroine in her grief.
The original legend of Rodrigo and Chimene dates from events in “eleventh-century Seville, but Nick Ormerod sets it in the authoritarian Ruritania almost as beloved of: current theatre designers as the baggy pants and headbands of the vaguely Levantine (e.g. ‘Coriolanus’ reviewed below). The men pace uneasily in scarlet and gold braid; the women scheme, suffer and watch in couture or Volks-polizei grey. Everyone is on the watch: Aden Gillett’s passionate and gentle Rodrigo; Patricia Kerrigan’s Chimene, part Shakespeare’s wronged Helena from ‘All’s Well,’ part redhead femme fatale; above all, the urbane, opportunistic and upwardly mobile King (Hugh Ross).
Cheek by Jowl are at their most intensifying and effective in a studio space, and there is no doubt that the effect of all this last Wednesday in the handsome medieval tunnel of the Fermoy was distancing and often dry. But not entirely. Even as the ships rode up the full tide of the Great Ouse outside and the victorious Rodrigo told once more how he let the Infidel slip up the Guadalquivir to be trapped in the city at night, Corneille survived translation, medieval tunnel, and three hundred years of Anglo-Saxon neglect, and had a mainly young Norfolk audience eating out of his hand.
Cheek by Jowl’s autumn touring schedule would have sent William Macready into even earlier retirement at bosky Enfield and made Mrs Vincent Crummies pale. It exemplifies Arts Council policy, however, and receives appropriate support.

Michael Ratcliffe, 21.09.86

Sunday Times

Since he wrote neither musicals nor flippant comedies, it is perhaps not surprising that Corneille has never been performed at the National Theatre. It has been left to the adventurous Cheek by Jowl Company at the Donmar Warehouse to bring us what is probably his finest drama, The Cid. With its fluid rhythms, its few rhymes and its many colloquialisms, David Bryer's translation is very much for the present day. If, inevitably, it robs the work of its grandeur, it sharpens for a modern audience the absurdity of "honour" repeatedly shown in conflict with reason.

The strength of Declan Donnellan's wholly admirable production lies in a combination of simplicity and style. Patricia Kerrigan makes a Chimena suitably torn apart by emotion and there is nice irony in Hugh Ross' playing of the cool, cynical monarch.


The Guardian

I never cease bemoaning the parochialism of the British theatrical repertoire. We endlessly churn out the same old plays while virtually ignoring the great European classics. But my point that we have been missing out on masterpieces is eloquently make by Cheek by Jowl's touring production of The Cid which , along with Peking Opera, turned out the be the highlight of the first week of the Dublin Theatre Festival. The play is almost unknown in Britain, yet I defy anyone seeing it not to realise the have stubbed their toe against something remarkable.

Corneille's tragic-comedy, written in 1636 and set in Seville, reminds us that great drama resides in agonising moral choices; he presents us with not one but with a multiplying series. Within 10 minutes of curtain rise the hero, Don Rodgrigo has been confronted by a cruel dilemma. His father has been publicly insulted by Don Gomes, the father of his fiancée, Chimena, in avenging the insult, he risks losing her love and when he duly kills her father, Chimena herself is torn between her passion for Rodrigo and her desire for filial justice.

But the conflicts do no end there. Rodrigo saves the state by defeating the Moors and so the King himself is faced both by his wish to honour Rodrigo and by Chimena's hunger for revenge. In a bitterly ironic twist, the King allows Chimena's champion to challenge Rodrigo to a duel; the reward, to her horror, turns out to be her hand in marriage.

Corneille's play can be seen as a series of conflicts between love and duty, the private and the public good. But its real theme is the double-edged nature of justice. If you remorselessly seek it, as Chimena does, you risk ruining your life. If you sidestep it, as the King does, you run into the quicksand of opportunism: pardoning Rodrigo, the King is bluntly asked, "Will you just for him turn upside down the time honoured laws of our kingdom?"

Wisely the director, Declan Donnellan, treats the play as an ironic moral comedy shadowed by death. And setting the play on a stage bare except for banquette seating and an astral Spanish floorcloth, he gets particularly fine performances from Hugh Ross as the suave monarch in blue tunic and from Patricia Kerrigan as the proud, flame haired Chimena.

David Bryer's decasyllabic verse translation also blows sky high the usual puny claim that French classic drama cannot be done in English. The matinee audience at Dublin's Mansion House sat as if gripped by a vice.

Michael Billington,  10.06.86

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