THE PRINCE OF HOMBURG
by Heinrich von Kleist new version by Dennis Kelly.
Donmar Warehouse 41 Earlham Street WC2H 0LX To 4 September 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 7 Say 2.30pm.
Audio-described 28 Aug 2.30pm (+Touch Tour 1.30pm).
BSL Signed 23 Aug.
Captioned 18 Aug.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7624.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 31 July.
If an unknown play’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly – as this very nearly is.
A paradoxical author, Heinrich von Kleist had a plan for a life which turned out chaotic, a stint as army officer followed by a procession of short-term jobs, various writings and a suicide pact aged 34. He wrote Germany’s one classic comedy, The Broken Jug, a satirical look at local bigwigs But his final, historical drama, The Prince of Homburg, examines power and individual emotions more explosively.
The Elector of Brandenburg gives battle orders. The enemy’s defeated, but the wilful young Prince doesn’t wait for his cue to charge, taking the faithful commander Kotwitz with him. The punishment for Homburg’s disobedience is death, though everyone wants him reprieved.
It’s hardly surprising, given Kleist’s life, that Homburg explores the Prince’s uncertainties. He’s first seen in a dream-state, from which he recalls only a lovely lady and her white glove. A sighting of her makes him miss the Elector’s battle orders.
Age-old themes of love and duty, political and individual impulses, are given a flavour that both grows from Enlightenment philosophy and undermines it. Performances in Jonathan Munby’s production fittingly create the inner lives of Homburg and Natalia, while Siobhan Redmond, given few words, vividly shows the Electress’s sympathy beneath awareness of proper behaviour.
Amid the tightly-uniformed, stiff-lipped, heel-clicking officers, Ian McDiarmid’s Elector shows evidence of a divided consciousness behind external authority. Barking sarcasm, command exploding from debate, his conflicting feelings expressed as he stands looking ready to tear the death warrant, McDiarmid’s Elector has more awareness of duality than Charlie Cox’s dreamy Prince.
Kleist was taken up by he Nazis, but this needn’t have so obviously affected the Donmar production. The acting’s impeccable, but the scenic insignia and final amplified Elector’s voice seem forced. While faithful to the end (some trimming of minor characters apart), this version isn’t faithful at the end – perhaps Kleist offers too dreamy a conclusion for today.
The best moment, encapsulating the play’s themes, comes from David Burke. His apparent threat to the Elector is altered to a philosophy of history by a pause and two words – both handled with the assurance normal in this ever-excellent actor.
Count Hohenzollern: Harry Hadden-Patch.
The Elector: Ian McDiarmid.
Natalia, Princess of Orania: Sonya Cassidy.
Page: Jolyon Coy.
The Prince of Homburg: Charlie Cox.
The Electress: Siobhan Redmond.
Marshall Dörfling: Julian Wadham.
Colonel Hennings: Simon Coates.
Count Truchss: William Hoyland.
Captain von der Golz/Farmer: Mark Theodore.
Colonel Kotwitz: David Burke.
Bork/Farmer’s Wife: Lizzie Winkler.
Director: Jonathan Munby.
Designer: Angela Davies.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Composer: Dominic Haslam.
Movement: Laila Daillo.
Assistant director: Titas Halder.