Robert Icke’s Mary Stuart is a towering success, an extraordinary piece of theatre that surely ranks amongst the year’s best, no mean feat considering his Oresteia, also for the Almeida, did the same thing last. There’s added spice here too since leading players Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson do not know which of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots they will be playing until the beginning of the performance when it is decided with a coin toss. And so too, dear reader, must you decide…
There’s much to enjoy about this Mary Stuart but what is particularly pleasing to see is Robert Icke’s directorial instincts developing and maturing. The production opens with Tim Reid’s live video, capturing the opening gambit, but cannily isn’t used again until a key counterbalancing action later on; likewise original compositions from Laura Marling are quite the coup but again are used sparingly, wisely, at two crucial and contrasting moments. The timestamping of each act over a more or less 24 hour period measures out a steady but always forceful sense of pace – Icke has always been a strikingly effective director but the less is more ethos espoused here is singularly superb.
So too with the political overtones of his adaptation, everywhere you look contemporary resonances can be found but they’re never overplayed. The 52% are hauled over the coals when “a majority does not prove a thing is right”; the dangers of riding roughshod, Trump-like, over the tenets of “international laws” are explored; the doublespeak (or rather non-speak) of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ finds a chilling partner in Elizabeth’s determination to shift the responsibility of the death warrant onto her man Davison, surely no accident that his modern-day equivalent is called David Davis… Continue reading “Mary Stuart – heads you win”
A coin toss is naturally a game of chance and so the odds of getting the same side twice in a row are just as high as getting heads and then tails (or maybe not, but I’m not researching probability theory on Wikipedia to pretend that I know). What I’m trying to say is that I went back a week later and I got Williams as Elizabeth and Stevenson as Mary again and so my plans of having two different reviews went kaput!
“You can’t slaughter what you cannot kill”
In amongst everything else that the Faction do, they’re also steadily working their way through Friedrich Schiller’s plays with the aim of staging the complete canon of his work. I’ve seen them take on Mary Stuart, Fiesco and The Robbers in recent years but their 2015 rep season features Joan of Arc, a free adaptation of The Maid of Orleans which was one of his most frequently performed plays during his lifetime. Its fiercely militaristic tone speaks to its popularity back then but the Faction, playing very much to their strengths in this thrilling and thoughtful version, make a sterling case for its pertinence today.
The play tells its own variation on Joan’s life – one could hardly argue it is historically inaccurate – which repositions La Pucelle as a defiantly active warrior in the Dauphin’s forces as the French Crown struggles against the combined forces of the Duke of Burgundy and Henry VI of England. That she was a peasant girl who received religious visions only added to her allure when her talismanic presence proved decisive in turning the military tide but the natural suspicion of anything different, combined with Joan’s internal dilemmas about the validity of her spirituality, allows the seeds to be sown for her downfall (even if it plays out in an unexpected manner). Continue reading “Review: Joan of Arc, New Diorama”
“Gelukkig is het einde nu in zicht”
One of the joys of Toneelgroep Amsterdam running a repertory company is that over the few years I’ve been following their work and the few opportunities I’ve secured to see them, I’ve been able to gain a real appreciation for the actors as familiar faces reappear. Two of my favourites – Chris Nietvelt and Hans Kesting – stood out in the life-changingly good Roman Tragedies and so the chance to see them again in the same play made another trip to Amsterdam a no-brainer.
That it is Ivo van Hove directing Maria Stuart certainly didn’t hurt either and sure enough, the mastery of his theatrical vision is fully in evidence once again. Schiller’s regal drama sets up two opposing queens, the protestant Elizabeth I and her Catholic cousin Mary Queen of Scots, as their deadly rivalry comes to a head but for all their disagreements and differences, van Hove shows us how they are as much the same as different, two sides of the same coin trapped by the political machinations of men. Continue reading “Review: Maria Stuart, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam”
“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. Continue reading “Review: The Robbers, New Diorama”
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. Continue reading “Review: Fiesco, New Diorama”
“Who could look at these naked walls and say that majesty lives here”
When I booked in for the first show in the Faction’s rep season, Twelfth Night, I knowingly said ‘I hope this isn’t good’ as I knew that if it were, then I would be suckered into seeing their other two shows. But it was, exceedingly so, and so I found myself back at the New Diorama for the opening of the second show, Schiller’s 1880 play Mary Stuart in a new version by Daniel Millar and Mark Leipacher.
One of my big theatrical regrets of pre-blogging times was missing the Donmar’s production of this play and so this was my first time of seeing it, though I’m fairly familiar with the history, it being an era I’ve always liked. Schiller depicts the final days of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Catholic cousin and rival to the throne of Elizabeth I, as she is held under house arrest in England whilst the queen decides on her fate. The intrigues of the Elizabethan court are vividly captured as noblemen’s loyalties remain murkily hidden with religion and politics playing off against each other and double-dealing being the order of the day. Continue reading “Review: Mary Stuart, Faction at the New Diorama”
“The stuff of seduction is also the stuff of politics: lies and promises”
Schiller’s Luise Miller is Michael Grandage’s penultimate outing as director at the Donmar Warehouse before Josie Rourke takes on the reins of Artistic Director. A bustling German 18th Century tale of romance, class struggles, tragedy and court politics, the play, Kabale und Liebe (previous translations have been called Intrigue and Love, and Love and Politics) has been given a new treatment here by Mike Poulton, who if Wikipedia is anything to go by (bearing in mind this is my first experience with the play), has reworked quite a bit of the latter part of the play, bringing to mind Dennis Kelly’s liberal approach to The Prince of Homburg at this same venue.
Noble-born Ferdinand, son of the one of the most powerful statesmen in the country, is in love with Luise Miller, the middle-class daughter of a middle-class musician and willing to sacrifice all for love. But the political scheming and power games that govern the world they live in means that their destiny is out of their hands, no matter how honourable their intentions, they are at the mercy of those more powerful who will stoop to nothing to ensure they survive. Continue reading “Review: Schiller’s Luise Miller, Donmar Warehouse”