Dmitry by Peter Oswald with Alexander J Gifford after Friedrick Schiller. The Marylebone Theatre, 35 Park Road, London NW1 to 5 November 2022. 4****. William Russell

The Marylebone Theatre is a new addition to the London fringe scene for plays – it was, and still is, a concert venue. The first play proves to be a bold choice – a drama in blank verse based on an unfinished play by Schiller about Ivan the Terrible’s son Dmitry who was murdered as a boy by Boris Godunov. But, as is the case so often, there were numerous pretenders to the throne and the play is about one who did have a gold cross on a chain, something the real Dmitry owned, who has come to claim the throne with, he hopes, the aid of the Poles and the Cossacks. He thinks he is the real Dmitry, but there was another boy with him who apparently was not killed by the assassins. It is a long evening, but director Tim Supple has staged it effectively and makes his large cast seem even larger than it is – the scenes of intrigue and conflict are stirringly staged and Oswald has provided a fine play – the problem is the performances. Tom Byrne as Dmitry is not one of the offenders – he delivers a stirring performance of a man who is destroyed when his own illusions – he really believes he is the real Dmitry – are shattered. His “mother”, for reasons of her own – the politics of the time are complicated with battles between the Poles and the Russians, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the whole East West relations which still afflict things today – recognises him, then changes her mind. He also can speak the verse. Not everyone can. There is also a great deal of shouting which does not help, but it is this problem for today’s actors – it happens with Shakespeare – that so much of the work they get is for television that they do not know how to speak to an audience. At times one has no idea what someone is saying and it is not because the words are difficult to understand – when the text comes across Oswald has written a splendidly clear play.

This is an evening to take a risk with – verse dramas are sometimes hard work but Oswald has a terrific tale to tell and manages to bring things to the conclusion that Schiller and Goethe, his friend, who also worked on it could not do. It is also good to see a theatre opening with something new and exciting and not some off Broadway musical which proves not to survive the ocean trip or a revival of something that flopped which the director things he can save. Good costumes, clever use of the existing stage setting by designer Robert Innes Hopkins, and terrific sound from Max Pappenheim are among the pluses – and there is the play itself which may be about 17th century events but which resonates today. But some of that speaking is just too awful for words.

Dmitry: Tom Byrne.

Papal Envoy: James Garnon.

Prince Mnishek: Mark Hadfield.

Marina, his daughter: Aurora Dawson Hunte,

Karela, a Don Cossack: Piotr Baumann.

Cossack: Lev Levermore.

Polish Parliament Speaker: Jonaathan Oliver.

Sapieha: Oleg Mirochnikov.

Soldier: haydn Ody.

Maria, Smitri’s mother: Poppy Miller.

Boris Gudenov: Daniel York Loh.

Prince Romanov: Daniel Hawksford.

Patriarch of Moscow: Ammar Haj Ahmed.

Prince Dolgoruki: Jonathan Oliver.

Price Soltikov: Oleg Mirochnikov.

Volkonski: Lev Levermore.

Fyodor: Freddie Beck/Jasper Penny.

Petrushok: Clifford Samuel.

Lady Kirkbright: Phoebe Strickland.

Razin: Mark Hadfield.

Sister Olga: Phoeb Strickland.

Alexei: Jonathan Oliver.

Abbot: Daniel York Loh.

Asisstant to Godunov: Haydn Ody.

Russian Soldiers: Lev Levermore, Haydn Ody.

Scout: Phoebe Strickland.

Director: Tim Supple.

Designer: Robert James Hopkins.

Lighting Designer: jackie Shemesh.

Sound Designer: Max pappenheim.

Movement Director: Helena Palmer.

Production Photographs: Ellie Kurtz.

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