“He’s the apple of your eye but if that apple do offend, then pluck it out”
The final piece of The Faction’s 2014 Rep Season 2014 is a revival of their 2011 successful take on Schiller’s The Robbers, which slots in along Hamlet and Thebes in playing through February at the New Diorama. As Schiller’s first play, it has something of a rawness about it in the way that brings together a surprisingly mature (for the 1780s) debate about state versus revolution, intervention versus anarchy, with the kind of histrionic family drama that at times recalls Shakespeare at his most bafflingly obtuse.
The play bounces between antagonistic siblings, Franz and Karl von Moor. The devilish Franz has hoodwinked their father into disinheriting the older Franz and so is allowed to grasp for power and money in court, whereas Karl flees to the forest where he becomes the head of a vicious band of robbers who are determined to start the revolution. Interestingly, the two never meet but their actions impact strongly on those around them as class, religion and society are indicted in melodramatic style.
A new version by Daniel Millar and Mark Leipacher, who also directs, modernises much of the language whilst keeping a sense of the arch Romanticism of the period. And the characteristic ensemble work of The Faction is present and correct to bring an inventive gravitas to matters – an advancing troop of fighter are hissingly exciting in slow-motion, the anguish that Karl shows later on is movingly shown through repeated action. The use of chalk on the walls has a visual flair too that settles the mood.
A slow opening means it can feel a little hard to get into but it definitely felt worth the effort post-interval and by the time the finale reaches its body-strewn conclusion (be warned, there’s lots of loud gunshots), it feels a suitable companion piece to the rest of the rep season. There’s real joy in seeing a company stretching itself across different work – Cary Crankson impressed once again for me as did Christopher Hughes’ gift for nonplussed comedy, but it was gratifying to see Jeryl Burgess really shine through too in two key roles.
But for all the seriousness and emotional intensity, there’s always the hint that things might turn schlocky, a telenovela of schadenfreude threatening to break free as Andrew Chevalier’s Richard III-esque Franz amps up his dastardly quotient, Tom Radford’s handsomely furrowed brow as Karl makes one bafflingly over-complicated decision after another and a former lover becomes a pious nun despite her burning loins – I mean, Sunset Beach has nothing on this! One can’t help but wonder what The Robbers would be like with a more upfront camp aesthetic full of cliffhangers and cutaways…