Tag Archives: Alistair Lax

The Prince of Homburg

★★★★

The Space

The Prince of Homburg

The Prince of Homburg

The Space

Reviewed – 12th December 2019

★★★★

 

“The Space is an always welcoming venue which has a reputation for programming important drama. This production of The Prince of Homburg is no exception”

 

Kleist’s The Prince of Homburg, written around 1810, is a play shot through with ambiguity and altered states. It was also seen, at the time of its creation, as a direct challenge to the authority of the ruling classes. Now recognized as one of the masterpieces of German theatre, the play is rarely seen on British stages, and not just because of the difficulty of rendering this work into English. Neil Bartlett’s translation, however, does a fine job of capturing Kleist’s unique energy of expression and style. So what The Prince of Homburg is actually about? In many ways, the play is essentially unknowable. But on the face of it, it is a story about a soldier whose response, after being tricked into a waking dream where he is crowned with a wreath of victory, is to promptly go into battle, disobey his orders, and—win a great victory for his side.

After the battle (often the end of the story in a more conventional play) is where this drama really begins. Kleist sets the audience an intriguing puzzle: since the Prince did not know whether he was awake or dreaming when he was crowned with the victor’s wreath, can he be held responsible for disobeying orders to achieve the dream? Is his commanding officer, the Elector, really to blame, since it was he who set up the whole scene for his own amusement? This enlightened despot disingenuously argues that he must follow the law when the courts sentence Homburg to death, but then the officers in his army rebel. When the Princess Natalie, who has fallen in love with Homburg, makes an impassioned plea for her lover’s life—it is not her emotions that carry weight with the Elector, but her cleverly nuanced argument that he will look bad if he allows a man of honour to be executed for following his heart. At this point the Elector caves of course, but sets up a poison pill for Homburg. The Prince must now decide whether to make the expedient argument to save his life, or do what a man of honour would do, which is to sacrifice himself willingly for his country.

Kleist pulls off a remarkable sleight of hand with this material, managing all these reversals of fortune in a way that undercuts expectations, while paradoxically heightening the audience’s experience through the dramatization of highly ambiguous dream states. In these states, the characters confront all the big stuff like life and love; death and immortality. Coupled with crafting a language uniquely suited to these dramatic innovations, Kleist engages the our imaginations, and our sense of what is possible in the theatre. The Prince of Homburg is like Hamlet in this regard, in that the more we engage with it, the greater it becomes.

Júlia Leval, freely adapting and directing this production of The Prince of Homburg, has come up with some innovative ideas for casting and staging. The Prince is played by Lucy Mackay, a fine actress, but lacking the experience for such a difficult role. Most of the cast (recently graduated from LAMDA) also seems rather adrift in the stormy waters of Kleist’s rhetoric, though Will Bishop is a confident Elector. A pared down set designed by Zoe Brennan has some beautifully ironic touches—a small bush for the laurel tree that Homburg uses to build the wreath for example, and a small white house that stands in for palaces and churches as well as a throne. Alistair Lax’s sound design helps to heighten the dream sequences.

Don’t miss your chance to see this seldom performed masterpiece. It’s worth making the journey to The Isle of Dogs to see it, and The Space is an always welcoming venue which has a reputation for programming important drama. This production of The Prince of Homburg is no exception.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

 


The Prince of Homburg

The Space until 14th December

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Wasp | ★★★★ | April 2019
Delicacy | ★★★½ | May 2019
Me & My Doll | ★★ | May 2019
Mycorrhiza | ★★★ | May 2019
Holy Land | ★★★ | June 2019
Parenthood | ★★★½ | July 2019
Chekhov In Moscow | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Open | ★★★ | September 2019
Between Two Waves | ★★★ | October 2019
Gasping | ★★ | October 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Strange Case Of Jekyll & Hyde

★★★★★

Jack Studio Theatre

The Strange Case Of Jekyll & Hyde

The Strange Case Of Jekyll & Hyde

Jack Studio Theatre

Reviewed – 5th September 2019

★★★★★

 

“an incredibly well thought out piece of theatre that grips and entertains the whole way through”

 

It is not hard to imagine the themes of Jekyll and Hyde transplanting themselves into the present day – science going too far, people struggling with their inner demons – and, indeed, The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde merges these so perfectly with the 21st century, it almost makes you question why it hasn’t been done before. Whether it is good vs evil, love vs hate, or Republicans vs Democrats, nothing is off limits in this clever and compelling take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel.

Set in an approximation of present day America, against the backdrop of a Trump impeachment, an avalanche of mass shootings, and mounting political tensions, this production not only offers up Gothic drama but infuses it with a modern and bitter poignancy. Although viewers are most likely familiar with the original twist of the novel, the play begins by throwing out scattered new pieces of mystery. The book’s sincere narrator Gabriel Utterson becomes troubled anti-heroine Gabrielle Utterson (Lucy Ioannou), a woman with dark secrets lurking behind her eyeliner-bedecked eyes. Taking on the role of journalist, she seeks to piece together the link between charismatic mayor Henry Jekyll (Will Pinchin), and villain Hyde (Christopher Tester). Why is the same Hyde seen assaulting a minor, shown just four years ago to be an affable schoolteacher in a relationship with Jekyll? As she becomes drawn closer into Jekyll’s world as his Presidential campaign manager, both the story and her unhealthy personal involvement only deepens.

A cast of characters support the main trio. Sex worker Imogen Poole (Gabrielle Nellis-Pain) turns from witness to Hyde’s horrors to Utterson’s love interest in a satisfying character arc. And scientist Hayley Lanyon (Charlie Ryall) pops up now and again to give insights on Jekyll’s scientific past. All in all, there are exceptional performances from every member of the cast. The script naturally gives Pinchin the most time to shine, but Nellis-Pain’s understated portrayal of what could have easily been a background character is also incredibly strong.

Each character also feels well-grounded in reality. Writer and director Ross McGregor has done well fleshing out the ideas of the novel, and a rich script keeps the cast well supplied with material, from quick ripostes that are both smart and searingly relevant, to high-stakes political debates, and soul-searching monologues. Credit must go also go to costume design (Bryony J. Thompson) for making Jekyll look so much like a Kennedy, and for Utterson’s wonderfully Victorian ensemble – a stylish homage to the story’s home era.

Despite the realism of the setting, the production still retains elements of Gothic spectacle, and it’s these two strands together that make it such a brilliant, bold, and unforgettable performance. Both the lighting (Anna Reddyhoff) and set design (Charlotte Cooke) work hand in hand to magnify the drama – with, eerie red, blue, and fluorescent lights, and a partly-transparent screen (a visual representation of many of the play’s themes) used to great effect. And the sound (Alistair Lax) heightens the drama in all the right places.

The final result is an incredibly well thought out piece of theatre that grips and entertains the whole way through.

 

 

Reviewed by Vicky Richards

Photography by  Davor Tovarlaza

 


The Strange Case Of Jekyll & Hyde

Jack Studio Theatre until 28th September

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Radiant Vermin | ★★★★ | November 2018
Sweet Like Chocolate Boy | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Cinderella | ★★★ | December 2018
Gentleman Jack | ★★★★ | January 2019
Taro | ★★★½ | January 2019
As A Man Grows Younger | ★★★ | February 2019
Footfalls And Play | ★★★★★ | February 2019
King Lear | ★★★ | March 2019
The Silence Of Snow | ★★★ | March 2019
Queen Of The Mist | ★★★½ | April 2019

 

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