The Robbers*** (New Diorama Theatre, 29 January 2014)

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

Written when he was still at school and first performed in 1781, The Robbers is German playwright Friedrich Schiller’s debut play. Here The Faction ensemble is reviving it as the third in its current repertory season, all performed at this theatre by the same company of actors. It joins Hamlet and Thebes. Franz and Karl are brothers whose lives have taken very different paths. The former is ruthlessly seeking wealth and power, the latter is a Robin Hood figure, taking refuge in a forest and leading a gang of robbers whilst striving for social justice. The return of Karl, in disguise, to his family home triggers a bloody chain of events, although the brothers do not meet during the course of the play, which seems a curious omission by Schiller. The play has been described as the first European melodrama and therefore ahead of its time. However it represents a style of theatre that is very difficult to interpret for a 21st Century audience. Director Mark Leipacher’s route to solving this problem comes with balancing the melodramatic style, which includes exaggerated displays of emotion and ill- explained actions, with the simplest possible staging. In fact, the staging is so simple and the costumes so nondescript that the production has the feel of a technical run-through in a rehearsal room. As a result, the spotlight is entirely on the performances and what we see is vital and imaginative ensemble playing from a mostly young company. Andrew Chevalier’s Franz, slight of build, his body misshapen and his face frequently contorted, comes a little too close to resembling a typical Richard III, but every melodrama needs a dastardly villain and he is it. In contrast, Karl, as played by Tom Radford, is a dashing romantic hero. The character’s motivation often comes across as rather confused, but his scenes with his father (Alexander Guiney) and his lost love (Kate Sawyer) wield considerable emotional power. A little plodding in the early stages, the production gains momentum as it progresses to deliver a stirring second half, building to a chaotic climax on a stage strewn with corpses. A new translation by the director and Daniel Millar blends traditional dialogue with modern urban language, although there is nothing that associates the production with a specific era. Enthusiasts for classic European drama will relish the opportunity to see this rarely performed piece which touches on class, religion and social inequality. Claims that theses serious themes, as presented in the play, have modern relevance are somewhat tenuous, but, thanks to some fine acting, The Robbers at least stands up as engaging entertainment.

thepublicreview_hor_web copy


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.