The freshly opened Marylebone Theatre has moved in what was London’s Steiner Theater, dedicated to the Austrian founder of the anthroposophy founder Rudolf Steiner. In his independent private schools, student theatre is a fundamental part of the curriculum; I remember seeing Krabat and Albert Camus’ The State Of Siege staged in Hamburg, even before “I can dance my name” totes became trendy. On the way to the venue’s bookshop, I pass a stunning Gaudi staircase (four walled premises are avoided according to the philosophy), I pick up flyers about Goethean psychology, theosophy and biodynamics but the revamped theatre at Waldorfs clearly wants to be open to a wider cultural audience, offering also concerts and poetry evenings – even the auditorium smells of new wood.
While I have seen or read most of Friedrich Schiller’s plays, the content of his unfinished Demitrius (drafted halfway before his death in 1804) has been unknown to me until now. Set during the Polish–Russian war in the 1600s, Schiller’s drama is set once again at a historic European high court. The gory conflict between the Catholic and the Russian-Orthodox Christians attracts war opportunists, conmen and manipulators to Moscow, while tsars, clerics and Cossacks play their own game of thrones. A true child of his time, entitled blood lines versus human ideals have always been a major subject for Schiller, as have loyalty, treason, patriotism, faith and, not to be forgotten, responsibility. Lots of legends surround the birth, upbringing, murder and sanctification of the historic Dmitri, born in 1582. As with most saints, history and mystery are going hand in hand – on stage, this adds extra layers of the tactical scheming none of the characters appear innocent of.
The masterful use of light contributes to crowds as well as clerical atmospheres, and even more to the maybe scariest bomb performed on a London stage – camouflage battledresses, heavy boots and fur collars have gone from frosty to desperate at a bloody war without summer. I cannot judge the uniforms, medals and music in use, but identify more sacred sounds and hard rock than eurhythmics.
Playwright Peter Oswald completed Schiller’s only remaining two acts of Demetrius following the Swabian’s signature rhyme metre, and then looked for a theatre to stage his completed Dmitry for ten years, according to the program. That this world premiere doesn’t perform in Schiller’s own language might have added to complication and delay. Would Germany’s thriving English theatre scene have been interested? Or the Federal Republic’s big state theatres who always align their repertoire with college curriculums (and rarely a year goes passed without at least one play of the “Storm and Stress” movement)?
Dmitry is a dark high-brow thriller, and a reminder on how complex and long Schiller’s pieces are. The cast (by no means an am dram ensemble) and its makers truly deserve the more than a month long run Oswald’s Dmitry has been granted here. I might not be the only one wondering tonight who’d be Schiller’s chosen protagonist in today’s conflict.
**** out of 5 stars
Dmitry was written by Peter Oswald with Alexander J. Gifford after Friedrich Schiller, directed by Tim Supple.
Played at the Marylebone Theatre (just off Baker Street) until early November. Tickets from £25.