Last January, The Faction’s rep season at the New Diorama was an unexpected but much welcomed surprise for me as their ensemble took on Twelfth Night, Mary Stuart and Miss Julie to great effect and it seems I was not alone, as the season was a sell-out success. So they have returned in 2013 with three new plays: Three Sisters and Blood Wedding will come soon but first up is no less than a UK premiere, of Schiller’s Fiesco, a dark swirling tragedy of sixteenth century Italian city politics.
Determined to unseat the long-ruling Doge of Genoa and prevent his tyrannical nephew from succeeding him, a group of conspirators from the Genoese nobility plot to overthrow him and establish a republic. But they’re a diverse group full of individually selfish motivation and as charismatic playboy count Fiesco rises to become the head of the conspiracy, it is clear that the prospect of the ducal throne is just as appealing, if not more so, than simply deposing the ruling family. And so layer upon layer of treacherous intrigue is built up as betrayal comes as often as blinking as revolution threatens to erupt and disrupt all.
Daniel Millar and Mark Leipacher’s new version has a clear-sighted vision and solid line of storytelling and as its AD, Leipacher’s direction has a strong sense of the capabilities and opportunities offered by The Faction’s ensemble. When it works, it is stunning, with innovative touches and beautiful imagery sparking off the stage. Gareth Fordred morphing from murdered son to grieving father has a touching grace; the freeze-frame effect used to pick out a game-changing murder out of the heaving mass of the ensemble is highly effective; and the way in which the billowing fabric of the coveted ducal robes become the architect of downfall has a cleverly elegiac beauty.
Richard Delaney is excellent as the titular Fiesco, calling to mind some of Joseph Millson’s intensity and he is ably supported by Anna-Maria Nabirye’s hilarious mercenary Hassan and Kate Sawyer’s sparky Julia, the niece of the Doge who Fiesco is resolved to seduce as part of the plan. Every so often though, acting choices veered a little close to the melodramatic for my liking – tragedy always seems more tragic when understated – and I suspect the adaptation could have been trimmed a little further as the running time does stretch out a little. But a solid start indeed for the 2013 rep season and one well worth a punt on before word spreads again and it sells out.