This production of ‘Jealous of Herself’ is a nuanced exploration of the male gaze that manages to both poignant and comic. Sarah Grunnah’s adaptation brings the first English language performance of Tirso de Molina’s ‘Jealous of Herself’ to the stage. This would be a daunting theatrical venture for many, but the combination of Grunnah’s script and Ell Potter’s direction produces a show that is remarkably polished. The production team have approached ‘Jealous of Herself’ with a thoughtful and enthusiastic attitude; one which has helped the show develop into such a refreshingly innovative performance. Their play is a seventeenth century Spanish drama that does not feel bounded by time, in fact the tone of the piece is surprisingly modern. It is far from a full-period production and this allows the cast to inventively play with the narrative’s treatment of gender.
The plotting and scheming that makes up the narrative is carried by an exuberant cast who deliver each line with an energy that is contagious. At ease with the complex plot and archaic language, the actors convincingly evoke up Spain at the end of its Golden Age. Finlay Stroud, as Don Melchor, gives an outstanding performance that shifts between his character’s earnest pursuit of love and the humour of his projected fantasies. The partnership between Stroud and Joe Pedden, in the role of sidekick Ventura, is fantastic. Their relationship is a joyous blend of jests, giddiness and exasperation. It is worth buying a ticket just to be able to see more of Pedden who bounds across the stage, spouting witty comebacks and cynical diatribes on the scripts “wordy, flirty metaphors of bastardised love poetry”. The orchestrator behind the story’s series of confusing deceptions is Quiñones who is delightfully played by Emily Bell – she is a potent actress who commands the stage with her delivery of awful sexual puns and conniving monologues.
This is the kind of daringly inventive theatre that makes the Oxford drama scene unique
There is a surprising musicality to the production which accentuates the drama perfectly. Alice Boyd has composed original music that is sung onstage by an ensemble, their vocals merge together into haunting harmonies that traverse the seventeenth century setting and the modern performance. This is a production that is truly creative in its incorporation of the arts – at one point Boyd appears on stage bearing an electric guitar, at other moments there are castanets. The suggestion that the play lies beyond a given period is also enhanced by the inclusion of contemporary dance scenes that act as beautiful narrative interludes. The chemistry between James Tibbles and Anushka Chakravarti imbues the simple, yet effective, choreography with a poignant atmosphere.
The plot may seem farcical to the audience as we are taken through each scene’s it twists and turns. All of the characters play their part in a vast game that tests loyalty and devotion through comic doubling (or even tripling), traps and trials. However, the talented cast and bold direction translates this improbability into a fantastical performance. This is the kind of daringly inventive theatre that makes the Oxford drama scene unique, and Jealous of Herself looks set to be the highlight of this Michaelmas’ season.