Review: Thebes, Hamlet and The Robbers by The Faction

The Faction are nothing if not ambitious, and it is their regular rep’ seasons at New Diorama which have raised their profile so extensively. Where else can you see three such diverse plays in one season by the same company, and thus get to know their work so well?

The plays in each season don’t seem particularly thematically linked, but there’s inevitably a Schiller in there (they are, after all, dedicated to producing his complete works) and in this instance it was a revival of The Robbers, created to such great acclaim four years earlier. The company also produce a range of classic plays and in this season they bravely took on that most difficult of Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, and Thebes: a new version of the Oedipus saga by Gareth Jandrell, based on Sophocles‘ trilogy but also taking-in Aeschylus’ classic Seven Against Thebes. This year, I was lucky enough to see all three in the space of four weeks.

I wouldn’t say The Robbers is Schiller’s greatest play, but it does play to his strength of documenting intricate political manoeuvrings, peppered with fairly immature (to a modern audience) plot devices. It’s not up to the level of his more accomplished plays, such as Mary Stuart, but it’s entertaining and delivered with consummate skill by the cast. A glorious romp through the Bohemian forest, the ensemble sequences are stunning, especially the storming of the Moors’ ancestral home towards the end of the play. Andrew Chevalier gave a particularly accomplished performance as the evil Franz Moor and Tom Radford, as his somewhat-naïve brother, Karl, also gave a sincere and skilful performance.

To produce Hamlet, when there have been so many acclaimed productions recently, would daunt many directors, but in Director, Mark Leipacher‘s hands it came alive and deservedly stands among the greatest. This is, in part, also due to a brilliant performance by Johnny McPherson in the lead role, who brings a sincerity and rationale to Hamlet’s ‘madness’, in a mature performance of which many more experienced (and lauded) actors would be proud. Alexander Guiney was superb as the verbose and pedantic Polonius, Damian Lynch was chillingly smooth as Claudius, and the production also featured a digital appearance by the great Simon Russell Beale as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Leipacher took the brave decision to set the play on a bare stage, throwing full responsibility for carrying the piece onto the ensemble, and they rose admirably to the challenge.

Of the three plays in this season, the one I was most looking-forward to was Thebes, being a lover of classic Greek drama, and it was even better than I had hoped-for. Gareth Jandrell’s adaptation preserved the spirit and conventions of the original plays, while giving us smooth, flowing and accessible dialogue, using modern phrases in heightened verse-form which felt completely authentic without being stilted or alienating. Rachel Valentine-Smith‘s direction matched the skill of the adaptation, and her physical chorus work was particularly stunning, removing any sense that we were watching an archaic form of drama. Kate Sawyer, doubling Jocasta and Ismene, gave her most subtle and mature performance to date, and Derval Mellett, as Antigone, was at her best, balancing strength and vulnerability beautifully, and demanding our empathy for the core dilemma of her character.

It was an accomplished repertory season, although I missed core ensemble members Richard Delaney and Gareth Fordred, both hugely accomplished and charismatic actors, who would have brought even more dimensions to the productions.

The Faction have received much praise and many awards recently, all of them well-deserved, and they continue to go from strength to strength. I can’t wait for their next rep’ season!

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