It's dispiriting to find a production that so fully lives up to the clichéd notion of Sturm und Drang: overwrought, draining and mistakenly equating brute farce with dramatic power.
Friedrich Schiller's story of love across the class divide thwarted by the politicking of an amoral court system neither reverberates as contemporary social critique nor grips as original tragedy. David Paisey's translation, as presented by Theatre Manoeuvres, moves at a measured, literal pace, with occasional expletives to give the impression of colloquial ease.
Gil Sutherland, as the President of the Privy Council (and father of the male half of the star-crossed couple), is cold-bloodedly calculating, and is ably supported by Stove Dodson as his secretary, the unctuous Wurm, and by Dominic Hawksley as.a Greenawayesque fop. This axis, in fact, entirely overbalances the play: the lovers themselves are here reduced to a noble cipher and a wide-eyed, sometimes hysterical popsie.
It's impossible, too, for a modern audience to begin to accept a plot that hinges on eighteenth-century bourgeois piety, so that the unfortunate Luise refuses to break the letter of an oath sworn to the odious Wurm, even when both morality and her love urge otherwise. The young couple's lives are predictably truncated, although the arsenic doesn't take effect before a few more agonised speeches. Life is too short for three hours of such whitened knuckles.
Written for The Independent.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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