Under Michael Grandage, the Donmar Warehouse’s exploration of European, particularly the German classical repertoire has been a thrilling addition to London’s theatre scene.
Kleist’s The Prince of Homburg and Schiller’s Mary Stuart have both enjoyed brilliant stagings there. Last year also saw the National Theatre reviving another German, Buchner’s Danton’s Death if with less success or conviction than London’s tiny Gate Notting Hill’s revival of Schiller’s first play, The Robbers, 17 years ago.
What all these German playwrights – admittedly of a certain period and heavily influenced by the Romanticism and Enlightenment ideas of their time – bring is a deliciously welcome concern with political and philosophical ideas.
Luise Miller (first production 1784 in Mannheim) is as fine a swansong production to Grandage’s rich vein of Germanic rediscovery as you could wish for: bold in direction, clarion clear in Mike Poulton’s new version, given a brooding beauty by Peter McKintosh (set design) and Paule Constable (lighting) and faultlessly executed.
As with Mary Stuart, Schiller’s observations on realpolitik, the abuse and corruption of those in power is riveting. Add to that, high moral purpose, the idealism of the young, a tragic outcome and topical resonances regarding marrying out of your class and you have all the makings of a heady brew.
Felicity Jones as the eponymous Luise, the daughter of a humble court musician who falls in love with a Court prince and becomes the tool of court intrigue is spirited and captures innocence as well as intransigence. But it is older hands, Ben Daniels as Ferdinand’s brutalist father and Chancellor, Paul Higgins as Luise’s father and John Light terrifying as the aptly named, Iago-like Wurm who provide the firm foundation for two brilliant performances.
David Dawson as the Court official, Hofmarschall Von Kalb – scheming, duplicitous, amoral – is sharper than a whippet with a Michael Sheen gleam in the eye whilst Alex Kingston as Lady Milford, the leading Court courtesan, is outstanding – luscious and commanding, in every sense.
With its echoes of Measure for Measure, Romeo and Juliet and Othello, Schiller may have borrowed from others. But the mix is entirely his own. And all the more satisfying for that.
Review first published for Reviewsgate, July 2011
Miller: Paul Higgins
Frau Miller: Finty Williams
Wurm: John Light
Luise Miller: Felicity Jones
Ferdinand: Max Bennett
The Chancellor: Ben Daniels
The Chancellor’s Page: Lloyd Everitt
Hofmarschall von Kalb: David Dawson
Lady Milford: Alex Kingtston
Lady Milford’s Servant: Alexander Pritchett
Director: Michael Grandage
Designer: Peter McKintosh
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Composer & Sound Designer: Adam Cork