Minerva Studio, Chichester
  Opened 29 May, 2009

Iain Glen is a van Dyck portrait come to life in this condensation of Schiller’s three (or two and a half) plays about the Habsburg military leader of the Thirty Years War. It is not simply his appearance, with luxuriant moustache, trimmed beard and period military officer’s garb. His manner, too, is not quite swashbuckling nor yet reckless, but… there is no better word than cavalier: this Wallenstein, provided only that his stars are favourable, is supremely confident both of his own military ability and of his men’s loyalty to him. Although he is aware of factionalism against him in the court at Vienna, nothing seriously dents his self-assurance, even as he prepares to desert the Holy Roman Emperor and ally with the enemy Swedes in order to obtain the throne of Bohemia, which is after all no more than the emperor has promised him. So it is that an effective first-half cliff-hanger can be fashioned not out of a momentous military event but simply his sudden realisation that he has been manoeuvred into a position where, one way or the other, he can only lose.
This is one of Schiller’s high-Romantic historical tragedies in which moral and political issues come together in a crisis for some towering figure. Mike Poulton has form as a translator of such plays, having already tackled the same author’s Don Carlos and Mary Stuart. He ably captures the passion and idealism in the various characters’ major speeches without making them sound airy-fairy. It is only in the latter stages that interest flags, when Wallenstein’s downfall is inevitable and it is merely a matter of when, where and at whose hand he falls. Angus Jackson’s focused production can carry us through the thicket of military officers’ names and shifting allegiances, but not so fluently down the long ramp to the general’s ultimate fate. Once his dear protégé Max (Max Irons, son of Jeremy, in his professional stage début) decides that loyalty to the Emperor must outweigh his love both of Wallenstein and of his daughter, much of the human drama dissipates; the tactics of Charlotte Emmerson as Wallenstein’s sister-in-law have succeeded, and Max himself dies offstage. Wallenstein’s own murder, and the subsequent elevation of his nemesis (Max’s father) to a Dukedom, come as a grim but somehow almost perfunctory ending.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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