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A CurtainUp Review

Don Carlos
By Lizzie Loveridge

Editor's Note, May 14, 2000: This is part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's trio of programs making a brief visit to the Brooklyn Academy of music -- playing at the Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn (718/636-4100). Don Carlos will play May 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. The production details are the same as in the review below. Gale Edwards is currently represented on Broadway as director of Jesus Christ Superstar and set designerPeter J. Davison with Copenhagen.

Schiller's play which propounds his political theories by retelling some sixteenth century history was met with a rapturous reception. The situation is this. Don Carlos, who is the heir to King Philip II of Spain, the king of inquisition and auto da fé (burning of heretics) fame, is betrothed to a French princess, Elisabeth of Valois. King Philip (John Woodvine) marries Elisabeth (Josette Simon) instead of his son, Don Carlos (Rupert Penry-Jones). Don Carlos still hankers after his former fiancée who is now his (step) mother.

Sixteenth century Spain under Hapsburg rule was a cruel, proud and tyrannical society led by a cruel, proud and tyrannical monarch. Schiller exposes the hypocrisy of the court -- the ruthless and vengeful soldier, the Duke of Alba (Ewen Cummins) who is sent to crush the protestant Netherlands, and the corrupt cleric, Domingo (Geoffrey Whitehead).

Ray Fearon plays the man who has the play's central dilemma, the honest and incorruptible Marquis of Posa. Claire Price is the Princess Eboli. After she has declared herself to Don Carlos and been spurned by him, she almost immediately realises her mistake and becomes vengeful.

So here we have many of the ingredients of a Jacobean revenge tragedy ies which the RSC stages so brilliantly, only this is not Jacobean but much later. Such is the posturing and pride of these royals and their court that some of the performances take on an air of melodrama. Certainly the King is hideously cruel, even towards his paragon of a wife and John Woodvine's performance is quite chilling. Neither Ray Fearon nor Rupert Penry-Jones fall into the melodrama trap. The madly in love Don Carlos is on the edge of insanity but his performance never spills over into pastiche or the ridiculous. In fact, I think we might be looking at a very promising future Hamlet. Ray Fearon, this season is a magnificent Othello in the Barbican main house, carries his very different part here confidently and astutely.

Peter J Davidson's red, black and grey set has words painted on the floor -- words such as nobility, nature and corruption which early arrivals try to string together into meaningful sentences. Huge doors with classical pediments are set in a perspex wall, scratched to create an opaque look behind wich we can see blood red walls and, through one door, a solitary tree outlined in monochrome. The classical guitar music is unmistakably Spanish.

Carlos enters in modern dress. He is dishevelled, with his cuffs flapping and his tie loosened from the undone collar. Talking about his love for his mother he is clearly aware of the impossibility of his situation ( "This road leads to sacrifice or the scaffold."). It is a situation here has all the hallmarks of a Greek tragedy --, "Hell to love my mother …….Hell not to be with her."

As he exposes the machinations of the court, Schiller discusses freedom versus tyranny and actions taken in the name of God. The Grand Inquisitor, the antithesis of Schiller's view, says, "Before the Faith, the Voice of Nature is as of nothing. "

As directed by Gale Edwards, this production makes one appreciate what a splendid opera this drama makes. It will be a great treat for Schiller enthusiasts. For this reviewer, what the programme calls Schiller's "intense theatricality" was at times too intense.

Written by Freidrich Schiller
Translated by Robert David MacDonald
Directed by Gale Edwards

With: Geoffrey Whitehead, Rupert Penry-Jones, Ray Fearon, Josette Simon, Claire Price, Michele Moran, Jo Martin, Joseph England, Ewen Cummins, David Collings, John Rogan
Set Design: Peter J Davidson
Costumes Design: Sue Wilmington
Lighting Design: Mark McCullough
Sound Design: Charles Horne
Music by Gary Yershon
Music director: Tony Stenson
Running time: Three hours fifteen minutes including an interval
The Royal Shakespeare Company
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th January 2000 performance at The Pit, The Barbican Silk Street London EC1

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