Philobiblon: Don Carlos - don't miss him

Monday, February 07, 2005

Don Carlos - don't miss him

I was planning to spend the evening slaving over a hot computer, but really wasn't feeling in the mood, when I got an email from a lovely Listserv community to which I have belonged for many years reminding me it was my birthday this week. (No, I'm not being deliberately forgetful, nor, I hope, is it a sign of early Alzheimer's, just my family never made a fuss about things so I tend to forget about them.)

So instead I went to see Michael Grandage's production of Don Carlos, and it was a good decision. For once the "stunning" blurb was entirely justified. It is an 18th-century play by Friedrich Schiller, of whom I must confess I had not previously heard. The play is stunning - the plots, the twists, the betrayals, the sheer drama is up there with Macbeth, and that to my mind is high praise indeed.

The language of the adaptation/translation by Mike Poulton is brilliant - serious, courtly, emotional, but never anachronistic, while avoiding the alternative trap of grating archaism (no "thees", "thous" or "sayeths"). It was so perfect you hardly noticed it, which is high praise for a modern traditional dress production.

Derek Jacobi as the Philip II of Spain has huge stage presence, but the other main characters - his wife Elizabeth of Valois, his son, Don Carlos, and most of all the freethinking Marquis of Posa - hold their own against him, giving the play an excellent balance.

It is based on historical fact, in that Elizabeth was originally intended to marry the son, but Philip decided to take her for himself, although a quick internet search suggests the supposed love between the first two was a romantic myth. But the shadow of the Inquisition, which hangs over the whole play, and bursts forth at the end, certainly wasn't, which reminds me I have a "Women of the Inquisition" book somewhere in my "to read" pile.

What struck me on the bus home was how much in intent at least Don Carlos resembled a play that I wrote for a school production at age 17, "The Framework of the Revolution", which was Frederick Forsyth meets George Orwell meets adolescent sense of tragedy, written by someone with no sense of dialogue whatsoever. (All of the youthful rebels got machinegunned in the end.)

It was undoubtedly as bad as that sounds, and went down a treat (I'm sure not) with an audience of private school pupils and parents used to Gilbert and Sullivan done by lots of girls in tights. Oddly enough I have no recollection of the evening of the performance, only of the dress rehearsal, in which hardly any of the 40-odd characters knew their lines, or what was going on. I was up in the lighting room having a scream - remember that bit!)

Unhappily, or probably happily, I don't think I any longer have a copy, and somehow I doubt the school kept one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am jealous. I have never seen the Schiller play, though I am very familiar with recordings of the Verdi opera adapted from the play. I have seen the opera once - it isn't staged very often due to demanding casting.

Nancy Phillips

2/08/2005 03:09:00 am  
Blogger Chameleon said...

Schiller ranks up there with Goethe (he is considered the greatest dramatist in German literature) and I'm glad you enjoyed the play. I prefer Maria Stuart myself :)

2/08/2005 07:21:00 am  
Blogger Ephelia said...

Happy Birthday!

2/08/2005 10:28:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Chameleon for that tip. I just looked it up and discovered there's a production of Maria Stuart starting later this week. I will report back...

This report indicates that this is the 200th anniversary year of the playwright's death, so anyone interested might want to look around to see if anything is on near them.

And thanks Ephelia!

2/08/2005 11:59:00 am  

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