You must watch Schillers’ romantic melodrama The Robbers

You must watch Schillers’ romantic melodrama The Robbers

The Faction Theatre Company, under the artistic direction of Mark Leipacher, has the highly commendable ambition to stage the completed works of Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), best known for Don Carlos and Mary Stuart and who deserves to be revived more often. In Britain he survives mainly in Verdi’s operas.

The Robbers is a young man’s play and was begun when he was 19 and still at school. The script, passionate in its anger and raging against a corrupt Establishment, caught the mood of the times.

The play, wildly successful at its premiere in 1782, brought him overnight fame. Ten years later the French revolutionary assembly made him an honorary citizen of the French Republic.

Schiller gave his audience the full theatrical overblown romantic melodrama.  There are two brothers. Karl, the good guy, turns Robin Hood and leads a band of robbers, criminals and murderers. Franz, the bad guy, spreads lies about his brother, puts his father in prison and attempts to seduce his brother’s fiancée.

Franz is an over-the-top villain and played as such by Andrew Chevalier as if he were some deformed relation of Richard III.  Karl (Tom Radford) is much more complex as the hero, a disaffected liberal who turns manic anarchist and is liable in his inner turmoil to hurl himself against the wall again and again. When he is forced to choose between the gang and his fiancée, and do the honourable thing by them and her, it becomes difficult to follow his motives and reasoning.

Tanitch at the Theatre

Daniel Miller and Mark Leipacher’s translation is very free indeed and it often feels as if the actors are throwing in their own swear words and dialogue. Leipacher’s bare and gritty production has plenty of verbal and physical energy and he also knows how to put slow motion to good dramatic use.

The actors also do a lot of writing and drawing in chalk on walls and floor, and this is particularly effective in the final bloody killing spree, which is directed as if it were a scene out of a John Woo Hong Kong action movie with revolvers pointing at everybody’s head and the audience wondering who is going to shoot first.

When is somebody going to revive Verdi’s version, I Masnaderi?

by Robert Tanitch

To learn more about Robert Tanitch and his reviews, click here to go to his website