Rose Theatre, Kingston – until 17 November
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Friedrich Schiller’s Don Carlos, written in the 18th century, is full of warnings about tyranny and oppression by the state that speak as loudly today as they did when he wrote them. The story of Don Carlos, son and heir to Philip II of Spain and their fractured relationship is full of twists, turns and dramatic misunderstandings.
The father and son are estranged after Philip takes Don Carlos’s promised young bride as his own wife. Don Carlos’s love for his “mother”, Elizabeth of Valois, is too much to bear and he takes himself away from the court. His friend Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, unusually free to travel Europe, is horrified by Spain’s plans for Flanders, and has idealistic plans for Don Carlos to lead Flanders to liberation and freedom, heralding a new beginning for Spain and Europe, free from the iron hold of the Catholic Church and the Inquisition. Obviously, things don’t go quite to plan, or the play wouldn’t be over 3 hours long.
Director Gadi Roll uses Jonathan Samuels lighting design to create an intimidating and often stifling atmosphere on the starkly furnished stage – the perfect setting for the political machinations and treachery surrounding Philip. In modern dress, all shades of grey, the cast move around the stage like chess pieces circling the king.
The cast do a fine job with a very wordy script, but there are too many speeches where the words are tumbling out in a rush and become intelligible. Samuel Valentine makes Don Carlos appear a petulant, self-indulgent brat until the final scenes, making Rodrigo’s love for, and belief in him unbelievable. Tom Burke is full of world-weary gravitas and pomposity as Rodrigo, with his confrontation with Darrell D’Silva’s conflicted Philip being one of the high points of the play. There seem to be only two methods of communication for most courtiers in Roll’s Spain – rapid-fire monotone with melodramatic stares, or SHOUTING. It does get a bit tedious, to be honest. The story is fascinating, full of Shakespearean misunderstandings and miscommunication, and with a more nuanced touch could easily be riveting. Unfortunately, this production becomes a bit of a slog, which is a shame as there are some good performances and inspired design choices.