Tom Burke is mesmerising in this powerful production
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.
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.
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.
Watch the One Minute Theatre Reviews YouTube review of Don Carlos below
Amendment 29 October 2018- changed ‘engrossing’ in first paragraph to ‘gripping’