Most people probably haven’t heard of The Mandrake. Could you briefly explain what it’s about?
Kian: It’s set in Renaissance Florence, where the young Callimaco has fallen in love with Lucrezia. It’s a classic situation: Lucrezia is married, so Callimaco has a problem. His solution involves tricking Lucrezia’s husband (Nicia) into allowing his own wife to be unfaithful. Callimaco gets the help of a shady fixer called Ligurio and a corrupt Friar. That at least is what happens in the play: the question of what it’s ‘about’ is slightly more complicated.
Yes, fair enough, and I think you’ve shot yourself in the foot here, but could you have a go at answering what it’s about as well?
Kian: For what it’s worth, I think The Mandrake is about the wonder of effortful human achievement. Callimaco fixes his mind on a goal. It seems at first difficult or impossible, but he comes up with a clever and inventive plan, he tries hard in the execution of it, and it succeeds.
Aymen (Friar): I think it’s probably worth pointing out that that’s a quite unusual reading. For me, it seems much more obvious that it’s about how society, or men in particular, will go through the most ridiculous schemes in the pursuit of sex.
Kian: Sex is a part of it, and Callimaco does go through a lot of nonsense to obtain that goal, but it’s also true that this telos is entirely unoriginal and repetitive in the context of Renaissance comedy. What is interesting about The Mandrake isn’t the goal itself, but the way they achieve that goal. Hopefully that also goes some way to explaining why I’m interested in this play and decided to do it.
Why did you choose to do it in the Exeter gardens?
Matilda: First of all, it’s only half in the gardens. Then there’ll be an interval, and people can enjoy their drinks before moving to the chapel for the second half.
Kian: Yeah, and I think all of these locations make good sense for The Mandrake. In Florence, Brunelleschi’s dome is one of the most prominent landmarks, and maybe this is a bit facile, but where in Oxford is better to suggest that than somewhere with a view of the Radcliffe Camera? Much of the second half naturally belongs in a chapel too, as the Friar becomes more and more prominent.
Ethan (Callimaco): And you missed the deadlines for the BT and Pilch.
Kian: There’s that as well.
Are you bringing anything new to your production of The Mandrake?
Ben (Ligurio): homosexuality.
Kian: That’s true, but it’s not the only novelty we have in store. That said, I don’t think we’d be doing any crime by staging a play as obscure as this without much novel spin.
What do you think each of your characters contributes to the play?
Matilda: My character is very elusive and rarely appears onstage.
Kian: She appears onstage much more than many of the other characters…
Ben (Ligurio): I’d say there are two elements to this play, the funny part, and the actual plot, and Ligurio drives the actual plot.
Clem (Nicia): I’m basically there so people can make fun of my character.
Aymen (Friar): I’m there for that reason, and also to make fun of the Church.
Thura (Siro): I’m there to wash Ethan’s feet.
It’s starting fall apart a bit here. Let’s all try to sum up the play in three words.
Aymen (Friar): Money, sex, power.
Matilda: Comedy and commentary.
Kian: Buy tickets now.
Ben (Ligurio): Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.
Ethan (Callimaco): And also Friday.
Clem (Nicia): This week only.
Aymen (Friar): See you there.
Kian: Ok, I think we’ve made that point to death now.