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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Pedro the Great Pretender
Royal Shakespeare Company - Stratford 2004, Playhouse Theatre Spring 2005

A never-produced play by Miguel Cervantes certainly qualifies as the sort of thing a company like the RSC should have a look at, and it turns out to be an amusing, low-key celebration of the seventeenth century equivalent of street smarts.

Evidently the Spanish preferred their poets to remain poets, their playwrights playwrights, and so on, since Cervantes wrote a number of plays that were never staged.

Certainly Pedro violates all the rules of the heavily conventional Spanish drama of the period, being openly a meandering string of self-contained episodes in the adventures of a clever rogue.

So, in thirteen scenes that are announced by number as they begin and punctuated by freeze-frames as they end, we watch the clever Pedro help a couple of lovesick shepherds in their wooing, make his foolish master look like a wise judge, join a gypsy band, con a miserly woman out of her money and then immediately give it away, and finally find his true calling - as an actor in a theatre troupe who may, in fact, be putting on this very play.

It is all amusing, all very clever and, in Philip Osment's witty translation, always as much fun to listen to as to watch.

One can't help feeling, though, that a director more instinctively attuned to comedy than Mike Alfreds could have made a real comic romp out of what is now just a leisurely stroll.

Alfreds has in the past directed several Chekhov plays, and this production has a bit too much of that softly elegiac quality, when you can sense the play straining to burst out with a more anarchic comic energy.

Much the same can be said of John Ramm's amiable and attractive Pedro, as Ramm gives what is essentially a subdued character performance, not a comic star turn.

And yet, even as your mind wanders and you begin to imagine who could bring more personality and comic pizzazz to the role - Nathan Lane, a young Eddie Murphy or, from the current company, Simon Trinder, who does so much with clown roles in the other plays in the repertory - you're also aware that making it a star vehicle would warp the play, possibly making it less effective as a whole (if funnier in parts) than it is.

With most of the rest of the cast limited to one or two scenes, only a couple are able to create strong characterisations or impressions, notably the aforementioned Simon Trinder as one of the amorous shepherds and Claire Cox as a gypsy girl with dreams above her station.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Pedro The Great Pretender - RSC at Playhouse Theatre 2005
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