LUISE MILLER
Donmar Warehouse, London WC2
Opened 13 June, 2011
****

I have sometimes been stinting in my admiration for Michael Grandage’s productions, either as director or artistic supremo at the Donmar, of German classics. However, his latest really is the business. Schiller’s 1784 play is here given its original authorial title rather than the one by which it is more generally known, Intrigue And Love (Kabale Und Liebe). There is a case for either: the intricate scheming by various members at an unspecified German court comes into brutal conflict with the love between the Chancellor’s son Ferdinand and the lowly daughter of Miller, the court musician teaching him violin; conversely, foregrounding Luise in the title emphasises that it is her passion and resolve as much as his that throws into disarray every stratagem of Ferdinand’s father and his cronies, except the one which proceeds to a tragic end clearly influenced by Othello.
    
In what is now the title role, Felicity Jones returns to the Donmar on top form. Her Luise is fatalistic from the start; rather than unleash the raging passions of the Sturm und Drang genre to which the play belongs, Jones husbands them until a tremendous duet scene with Alex Kingston (her co-star in the recent film Like Crazy), as the Prince’s mistress and power behind the throne to whom Ferdinand is assigned in a marriage of convenience. As Ferdinand, Max Bennett is much more tempestuous but no less compelling; it is as if the young Michael York could properly brood rather than simply pout. Paul Higgins and Finty Williams give solid support as Luise’s parents; Ben Daniels and John Light are Machiavellian as the Chancellor and his secretary, and Kingston couples fervour with deviousness. David Dawson as the florid courtier Hofmarschall von Kalb bids fair to become the new Andrew Scott, an actor at once commandingly intense and disarmingly camp. When it is proposed that Luise’s name be blackened by fabricating a love letter form her to someone at court, and the suggestion of von Kalb is greeted with hesitancy, he asks aggrievedly why not him? – well, to be frank, Hofmarschall, because you’re obviously as gay as tree full of parrots. The phrasing would be only a little out of place in Mike Poulton’s plain, unvarnished translation, which disguises neither sexual bluntness nor self-conscious aphorism. Schiller’s Miller is not mere filler but a killer-diller thriller magillah.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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