Review: The Robbers, New Diorama

 
“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”

Review: Thebes, New Diorama

Let this blood here be the wash of Thebes’ redemption”

The ancient Greek stories of Thebes have proved some of the most enduring, inspiring theatremakers across the years to relate the tales of power-crazed, war-torn tragedy in their own ways and to their own experiences. Here, Gareth Jandrell ramps up the epic quotient by splicing together works by Aeschylus and Sophocles to create his own new play Thebes which spans the entire misbegotten dynasty, and forms the second play in The Faction’s 2014 rep season at the New Diorama.

So we see Oedipus’ crazed descent as the terrible truths uttered by the Oracle unknowingly shape his destiny as a most tragic king and we then move swiftly into the aftermath of his death, the power vacuum that emerges that his two sons and Creon battle to fill. Which in turn unleashes its own trail of chaos in the form of Oedipus’ vengeful daughter Antigone who will stop at nothing to do what she feels is right. All the while, the city of Thebes pulses in the background – bearing witness, making comment, passing judgement. Continue reading “Review: Thebes, New Diorama”

Review: Hamlet, New Diorama


“What a piece of work is a man”

The Faction’s annual rep seasons at the New Diorama have gone from strength to strength, winning increasing critical and commercial acclaim, and so in the relatively dry spell of early January openings, they are a welcome highlight. Their 2014 season opens with a fresh take on Shakespeare’s perennial classic Hamlet, directed by Mark Leipacher in an adaptation that takes its time to find its feet and its oeuvre but once it does, it exemplifies much of the best of the Faction’s work, anchored by an excellent lead performance from Jonny McPherson.

Early on, the most arresting feature of this production is the ingenious use of a digital Simon Russell Beale to play the ghost. Leipacher comes up with a novel method of displaying Martin Dewar’s projection work, the ensemble making it somehow float in the air but for all its resourcefulness, it never feels truly integrated into the show, a distance is forced between reality and artifice which undermines the emotional current that ought to pull so strongly. And generally, the first half feels slow to start, competently played to be sure but not quite essential. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, New Diorama”

Review: Blood Wedding, New Diorama

“They washed their hands of blood”

The world of Lorca is naturally imbued with the essence of his native Andalusia, the aching sense of duende that characterises much of his work and at first sight, The Faction’s version of Blood Wedding inhabits a similar realm. Martin Dewar’s lighting casts a warmly Mediterranean haze, guitar strings are plucked from afar and the design is stripped back to a border of sand around the edge of the New Diorama’s stage which has been reconfigured into the round. And in the earthen tones of the costumes, the Cassandra-like Mother foretells a tale of woe between two long-feuding families which are soon to be joined in matrimony in an attempt to force a happy ending.

But the heady scent of sexual desire lingers between the wrong people, vengeance lies heavy in the air and there’s a price that must be paid as fate winds its unwieldy way across all concerned. And in their ensemble-led physicality, The Faction – directed here by Rachel Valentine Smith – cultivate the sense of hermetically-sealed community in all its inescapable oppressiveness, ever-present observers from the sidelines and participants in the rituals of marriage. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle, lead performances come shining through. Continue reading “Review: Blood Wedding, New Diorama”

Review: Three Sisters, New Diorama

“Happiness comes from desire, not fulfilment”

Though it was not particularly to my taste, Benedict Andrew’s radical take on Three Sisters for the Young Vic was a big success last year and so it is a brave company that takes Chekhov’s play on again so soon, not least in opening with a directorial choice which references it so strongly. It is the second play to open in The Faction’s 2013 rep season at the New Diorama after Schiller’s Fiesco, but where that play made imaginative use of the ensemble and sparkled with interesting direction, there’s not quite the same level of creativity at work here in Three Sisters, as this is altogether a straighter reading of a text.

Ranjit Bolt has adapted the text quite considerably and whilst some may baulk at the contemporised truncations, I rather liked the colloquial ease with which it flowed through the trials and tribulations of the siblings trapped in their Russian backwater, determined but seemingly unable to prevent life from passing them by. Director Mark Leipacher keeps things relatively simple, utilising a set of kitchen chairs in a multitude of ways to suggest the rooms of the house that variously keeps them prisoner, offers a blanket that maintains their declining privilege and yet also forms a kind of refuge from the realities of the word. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, New Diorama”

Review: Fiesco, New Diorama

“Let the tyrant perish”

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”

Review: Miss Julie, Faction at New Diorama

“I have to get down but I don’t have the courage to jump”

Miss Julie is the third iteration of the Faction rep season at the New Diorama, though there’s been a bit of a gap for me between seeing this and the brilliant first two –Twelfth Night and Mary Stuart. And I’m not sure if it was the gap, my feelings that night or perhaps the company stretching themselves just a little bit too far, but I did not take to Strindberg’s play half as much as I did the others.

Part of it came from the feeling that this was more of an afterthought than an integral part of the rep season – it seems an odd choice for the company to choose with an ensemble at work as the play is a three-hander at heart. Miss Julie is a Count’s daughter but rather than attend the formal ball being put on by her father, she opts to go to the party being held by the servants where she embarks on a dangerous flirtation with footman Jean. Continue reading “Review: Miss Julie, Faction at New Diorama”

Review: Mary Stuart, Faction at the 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”

Review: Twelfth Night, The Faction at New Diorama

“What great ones do, the less will prattle of”

With a burst of enthusiasm and ambition that should inspire anyone who is already struggling to keep their New Year’s resolutions,The Faction Theatre company are launching into 2012 with a three play rep season for the next seven weeks at the New Diorama Theatre. First up is Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a romantic comedy of assumed identities, passionate yearnings and carousing nobles with a hard edge of revenge. The play is well suited for a large ensemble – the 11 actors here will all star in all 3 plays – and in Mark Leipacher’s production, proves a considerable, imaginative success.

The black box of the New Diorama is kept bare and the use of props judiciously low thus focusing the attention on the text, which is extremely well spoken here, and on the physical language employed by the company which creates some moments of striking imagery. The cell within which Malvolio finds himself interned is created from bodies and hands pressed all around him; the tree for the gulling scene made from six actors outstretched and swaying gently in the breeze; the shipwreck is powerfully evoked through movement, and a bedtime scene is extremely wittily and cleverly portrayed. It all makes for a constantly engaging production which, with the great deal of pace, means the attention is rarely allowed to waver. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, The Faction at New Diorama”