Don Carlos starring Tom Burke – Review

Tom Burke is mesmerising in this powerful production

Production photo of Tom Burke in Don Carlos- 2018 production
Tom Burke in Don Carlos. Photo: The Other Richard

(5 / 5)
Schiller’s 1787 play about about love, freedom and a revolt against totalitarianism is given a powerful, grippiing production by actor Tom Burke and director Gadi Roll‘s new theatre company Ara.

The plot concerns King Phillip II of Spain and his son Don Carlos in 1567. Love drives much of the play, the love of father and son, who have become estranged because of the love the son feels for his stepmother Elizabeth whom the King in effect stole from him, and also the love between Don Carlos and his friend the Marquis of Posa.

Click here to watch Don Carlos reviewed on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Interweaved with this is a political element in which the totalitarian  government of the king is challenged by the more romantic Don Carlos and his freethinking friend Posa.

There are misunderstandings and sacrifices that add to the drama. And it all happens in the shadow of the Spanish inquisition.

There’s a lot of conversation about the importance of freedom and the wrongs of autocratic leaders that is still relevant today. And the words are forceful in this modern, poetic translation by Robert David MacDonald.

Gadi Roll’s dramatic, stripped back production

Gadi Roll’s dramatic, stripped back production concentrates our attention on those words. The design by Rosanna Vize is a bare black set with black costumes. The actors are almost entirely lit by spotlights that pick out faces and concentrate our attention on what they’re saying. And Gadi Roll’s use of a discordant soundscape is highly effective.

This production has been sold very much on the star quality of Tom Burke which may be why, confronted with so much talking- and it is over 3 hours long- quite a few members of the audience left. In fact, Tom Burke gives a mesmerising performance as Posa. He exudes an inner power and his passion for his cause and for his friend is palpable. 

Darrell D'Silva in Don Carlos
Darrell D’Silva in Don Carlos. Photo: The Other Richard

Since this production puts acting at its core, I must also praise Samuel Valentine as the emotionally unstable, indecisive Don Carlos, Kelly Gough as the conflicted Elizabeth and particularly Darrell D’Silva as king Phillip whose struggle with his feelings and emotional collapse is extraordinary to witness.

There is a riveting scene at the end of Act One between Posa and Philip in which the former speaks frankly to the King about the benefits of allowing freethinking to ‘restore the nobility of man’. The King, even as he argues, is captivated.

For me, this was pure theatre and an engrossing evening.

Don Carlos is performing at Nuffield Theatres Southampton until 3 November 2018 and then at the Rose Theatre Kingston-upon-Thames from 6 to 17 November.

Watch the One Minute Theatre Reviews YouTube review of Don Carlos below

Amendment 29 October 2018- changed ‘engrossing’ in first paragraph to ‘gripping’

A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Southampton Theatre City

Imaginative take on a 20th century classic

(3 / 5)

Click here to see my review of A Streetcar Named Desire on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Kelly Gough in A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Theatre Southampton
Kelly Gough in A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Theatre Southampton. Photo: The Other Richard

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century. Chelsea Walker’s production at Nuffield Theatre’s City venue does it justice in many respects.

The cast convey the unspoken as well as spoken relationships very well. Kelly Gough gives a visceral performance as the central character Blanche Dubois who comes to stay with her physically abused sister Stella and macho brother-in-law Stanley, and whose superior behaviour and secret past create a charged atmosphere destined to explode. She’s hyperactive, nervous, fragile. You feel at any moment she could break into a thousand pieces, like the various objects during the production which do just that. A watermelon being one example.

Chelsea Walker has added many more visual metaphors, including some nicely done dance sequences, to underline what’s happening in the characters’ heads. One metaphor at the end by which the set becomes symbolic of Blanche’s state of mind and her separation from the other characters works really well.

There is a realistic lovemaking scene in which Stanley pleasures Stella. This has the effect of heightening the strong sexual atmosphere, as well as showing explicitly what the text only suggests, that one reason why she stays with this bully is that he satisfies her physically.

Chelsea Walker’s production sizzles with ideas

The production sizzles with ideas but there were times when I felt this talented director was trying too hard. For example, she’s given the play a contemporary setting.  It’s true that the themes of being an outsider, domestic violence, masculinity and power, and more remain relevant to our times but by moving it to our times, many anachronisms are created.

For example, talk of sending a wire when one would send a text or of workclothes when a character is wearing a leisure outfit. This wouldn’t matter if the modern setting provided new insights but I’m not convinced it did.

Cast of A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Southampton Theatre
A Streetcar Named Desire at Nuffield Southampton Theatre. Photo: The Other Richard

Patrick Knowles resisted the temptation to overplay Stanley, allowing Blanche’s character to dominate the play, as she should. He managed to convey the arrogance and insecurity of a macho  man who imagines himself a ‘king’. He could perhaps have displayed more sexual swagger for a man who defines himself by his masculinity.

One thing missing was the oppressive atmosphere we expect in A Streetcar Named Desire. Georgina Lowe’s clever set, although appropriately restricted in its dimensions, has an open frame-like structure made more open by all the space of the Nuffield’s new auditorium around it. (I suspect it will work better in more intimate venues.)

The actors rarely behaved like they were weighed down by the heat and humidity of a New Orleans summer.

These caveats aside, I thoroughly recommend A Streetcar Named Desire either at the Nuffield or during its tour.

A Streetcar Named Desire performs at the Nuffield Theatres Southampton City until 31 March 2018 then tours  to Keswick (3 – 7 Apr), Malvern (10 – 14 Apr), Bristol (17  – 21), Ipswich (24 – 28 Apr), Cambridge (1 – 5 May), Oxford (8 – 12 May) and Mold (15 May – 2 June), returning to the Nuffield 5 – 16 June.

Here’s my YouTube review