I once read about a school production of the musical Les Misérables, in which a pupil playing Gavroche practically spat out a line at top speed, with little in the way of variation, thus: “Listen-everybody-General-Lamarque-is-dead!” Such rapidity was a hallmark of the first half of this production of Don Carlos, in which many of King Philip II of Spain’s (Darrell D’Silva) subjects talk as if their lives depended on it. This is partly because, in this sort of society where the King need only make an announcement for someone’s destiny to change dramatically for good or for ill, one must exercise discretion of the highest order. It’s a show set in the sixteenth-century – it’s not as if the characters can simply text one another later.
The alternative to what comes across at times as one of those radio advertisements with terms and conditions read out at hyper-speed is possibly worse: a show that drags. And with a running time in excess of three hours, I couldn’t help but feel grateful that this production seeks to justify it by rattling along with significant vigour. But when multiple characters do it, there is one less thing to differentiate one person from the next. This dialogue gives Hamilton a run for its money for speed, and in the second half, when the pace slows down somewhat, it may be indicative of the ever-increasing severity of events, but actually gives the impression in this case of a production running out of steam, limping to its destination.
Not so with the costumes and set, which are as contemporary as the translation by Robert David MacDonald (1929-2004) of the Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) play. The King speaks of a crown, but there is never one visible on his head, and the palace would appear to be furnished with products from Habitat. In one sense, it’s a little disappointing, but in another, one can see what the creatives are trying to do: let the text speak for itself without too much embellishment or distraction. The King’s entourage is suited and booted, many wearing sunglasses by day – and when guns (rather than swords) are drawn, the motion picture Men in Black came to mind.
It is Elizabeth of Valois, Queen of Spain (Kelly Gough) who is the first to show some palpable emotion, to which the title character Don Carlos, The Crown Prince (Samuel Valentine) responds in kind. I shan’t even attempt to go into the plot, such is its complexity – it requires some concentration, but the investment pays off. Productions like this defy the idea that twenty-first-century audiences have insufficient attention spans to cope with extended scenes: they (meaning, of course, ‘we’) can, so long as the show holds enough interest, which this one does.
There’s plotting and scheming going on, often in the light of incomplete information. Characters act on information they have available, and there are several instances of ‘dramatic irony’. The world of Don Carlos is bleak and foreboding, and a possible positive future spoken of so eloquently by the Marquis of Posa (Tom Burke) ends up remaining a pipe dream. Burke also plays The Grand Inquisitor, though more of an effort could have been made to portray ‘an old man of ninety, blind, leaning on a staff’ as the directions in the script indicate.
There’s no getting away from the fact that, fortunately, or unfortunately, there’s a lot of shouting going on, not of all it being strictly necessary. But what a stark reminder of the words of Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Some food for thought in this intriguing if uneven production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Don Carlos is a magnificent tale of passion and power set against the chilling backdrop of the bloody and ruthless Spanish Inquisition.
Don Carlos is torn apart when his tyrannical father King Philip II seals a peace deal by marrying French noble Elizabeth de Valois, the love of Carlos’ life. The heartbroken heir turns for help to his closest friend, Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, a champion of the oppressed, who questions the monarch’s iron rule and becomes an unlikely power broker in the duplicitous court.
Written just two years before the French Revolution, Schiller’s Don Carlos is a man caught at the intersection of passion and politics: smitten by his stepmother and seduced by Posa’s dangerous vision of freedom. The chilling work is full of Shakespearean echoes and its themes of justice and equality; freedom of expression and conscience; religious bigotry and state persecution are as relevant today as ever.
Director Gadi Roll brings his trademark dynamic imagery and haunting sound-scapes to Schiller’s masterpiece.
Tom Burke – Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa
Alexandra Dowling – Princess of Eboli
Darrell D Silva – Philip II
Kelly Gough – Elizabeth
Jason Morell – Domingo
Vinta Morgan – Alba
Samuel Valentine – Don Carlos
Stephen Ventura – Lerma
Flip Webster – Duchess
Alexander Allin – Ensemble
Dan Ball – Ensemble
Guy Dennys – Ensemble
Euan Shanahan – Ensemble
Writer Friedrich Schiller
Director Gadi Roll
Translator Robert David MacDonald
Set & Costume Designer Rosanna Vize
Lighting Designer Jonathan Samuels
Casting Director Annelie Powell
Rose Theatre Kingston
6 – 17 November 2018