Emilia Galotti*** (Barons Court Theatre)

Posted: September 2, 2014 in Theatre

LessingThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Abuses of power, taking advantage of wealth, position or celebrity, are not a new phenomenon and their examination here give this 1772 play by the German writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing particular topical relevance. The play concerns The Prince of Guastalla, the overlord of a region in Italy who becomes besotted with the towns girl of its title, setting off a tragic chain of events. Written as a socio-political commentary on 18th Century European life, the play highlights the conflicts between aristocratic rule and the new enlightenment of the Bourgeoisie who sought to cast aside ancient traditions and privileges. Emilia, supported forcefully by her father, claims the right to choose her own suitor and finds the advances of the Prince repulsive. Performed today, plays from this period can often come across as comic melodramas, and Dr Mark Ewbank’s production, which has costumes that look as if they come from last Christmas’s Cinderella, often walks a very thin line between comedy and tragedy. The production crosses the line towards comedy in scenes involving the Prince. Che Watson, bewigged and decked out in green velvet, makes this character a foppish buffoon whose lustful eye would seem more likely to be fixed on the nearest mirror than to wander towards Emilia. Fortunately, Ewbank gets weightier performances in other prominent roles. Samuel Haughton is creepily effective as Marinelli, the Prince’s scheming and duplicitous fixer and Peter Wheal-Jones brings real power and conviction to the role of Emilia’s father. As Emila, Roseanne Lynch has a beguiling innocence, but it is Francesca Burgoyne who steals a large chunk of the second half; as the Prince’s spurned lover, she plots a ruthless revenge and, in a delightful touch, she leads the audience in a slow handclap to celebrate having sown the seeds of destruction. This play is at its most interesting when it focusses on the plight of its female characters who are striving to assert some measure of independence in a male dominated world. In this sense, it was very much ahead of its time. Ewbank’s production does well in bringing these themes to the fore and, although it is at times uneven in its tone, it builds to a strong, dramatic climax.

Performance date: 1 September 2014

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