BWW Review: DON CARLOS, Rose Theatre
Back in 2005, Friedrich Schiller's 18th century offering Don Carlos won rapturous reviews when it transferred to the Gieldgud from Sheffield's Crucible. Now revived by the newly formed Ara theatre company, founded by actor Tom Burke and Israeli director Gadi Roll, it comes to Kingston's Rose Theatre.
With more than a few Shakespearean echoes, Schiller's play focuses on love and politics in the court of tyrannical Spanish monarch Phillip II. His son Don Carlos is heartbroken when his father marries the French Elizabeth de Valois, the love of his life for political gain. He turns to his friend Rodrigo, Marquis de Posa, the people's champion for help, but Carlos is so overcome with his love for his stepmother and battered by the brutality of his father that he is unable to unite his vision for freedom with the chilling realities he must face.
Tom Burke, despite being the face on the posters, actually plays the highly moral de Posa. He brings gravitas and solemnity to the role of a man motivated by love for ordinary people and the need for justice and liberty for them. He has a good stage presence and is the calmest actor on stage.
It seems an odd decision for him to play the sneering Grand Inquisitor in Act II as well, although the dichotomy of the roles is an interesting exploration of the two men existing in morally opposite worlds.
Derek Jacobi's performance as Philip II was lauded to the skies and so Darryl D'Silva has a tough act to follow in the role. As the tyrannical monarch who has sacrificed love for power, he is aggressive and pompous with his immaculately coiffured grey quiff and Cuban heels. His chemistry with Burke is compelling, as the two verbally banter with each other during their first meeting; Philip II showing how impressed he is by de Posa's audacity in contradicting him.
Samuel Valentine's Don Carlos is less successful; he conveys the internal torment he feels at his love for Elizabeth very well, but he plays Carlos as a rather annoying and unsympathetic character. He also often speaks so quickly, he loses the end of words, running around the stage like a hyperactive child.
Kelly Gough's Elizabeth of Valois and Alexandra Dowling as Princess of Eboli are interesting yet flawed female roles. Again, speed of delivery is sometimes a problem with Dowling in particular being overly melodramatic in her role.
The production feels suitably oppressive. In a fearful world, informers lurk at every corner and no one can be trusted. Rosanna Vize's design, with its low level lighting and modern black costumes is stark and stripped back, forcing the audience to concentrate entirely on the players themselves. For such a long production, this can be challenging for those watching. In addition, despite such a simple set, the scene changes often take too long and the positioning of spotlights along the side of the stage occasionally interrupt the audience sightlines.
Director Roll has made some intriguing staging decisions; the cast often play to each other horizontally, rather than out to the audience and march across the stage in lines as though in a grid. The intention may have been to illustrate a huge board game, with all the actors playing against each other, but the result sometimes looks awkward and unnatural.
This is an intense production, with all characters spitting their lines at each other at often ferocious speed. However, despite this ferocity and some solid performances, there is not quite enough to make this production as compelling as it should be.
Photo Credit: The Other Richard