The cast and director Gadi Roll provide plenty of pace and intensity to keep the audience thoroughly engaged – but was all the shouting really necessary?
Politics and a forbidden love lies at the centre of Friedrich Schiller’s darkly intensely play that is brought to life in Gadi Roll’s bleak but well performed production that is now playing at the Rose Theatre in Kingston following runs at the Exeter Northcott Theatre and the Nuffield Southampton Theatres.
Don Carlos is passionately in love with Queen Elizabeth who is now married to his father and he would do anything to be with her – even at the risk of punishment from his father who is suspicious of his son’s relationship with his wife as well as the fact that Don Carlos is too hot headed to carry out his duties properly- this is just one strand of the plot which soon leads to suspicion and distrust in other matters. Throughout this production the audience is shown just how a lack of information can lead to false speculation or in today’s terms ‘fake news’.
There is a great passion and intensity throughout Gadi Roll’s production that can beautifully highlight all of the character’s growing suspicion and mistrust at what they are being told – as seen in the scene during which the Philip II the King of Spain rants at the frustration of what potentially his son has been up to with his wife – powerfully expressed it successfully plants the questions what is truth? What is lies? in the audience’s mind in a way that can easily be applied in society today with the rumours that spread on social media.
But the trouble is with this production is that some of the intricate parts of the plot can be slightly lost thanks to the speed and urgency in the way many of the speeches are delivered. The audience does feel the Queen of Spain’s utter dismissal of Don Carlos, reminding him forcefully of her duty as a Queen that makes love an impossibility – but at other times the level of aggression can become slightly wearisome.
Yet despite this, there is still plenty to admire about this production. Not least the way in which Rosanna Vize’s stripped back but striking set design helps to expose the rawness of the character’s feelings, complemented by the lighting by Jonathan Samuels.
There are also several dynamic performances that really capture the power of the piece and the way in which the issues that the play rises can be applied in 2018. Samuel Valentine as Don Carlos is suitably passionate, sincere but also captures the naivety of the character in thinking that he can simply declare his love for the queen and everything will be ok. Meanwhile, Tom Burke as the Marquis of Posa is strong support in the way in which he captures his loyalty to Don Carlos – charming and reasonable, his is a performance that is perhaps the most grounded. Both Kelly Gough as the Queen of Spain and Alexandra Dowling as Princess of Eboli show great strength and vulnerability in their performances having been caught up in this dangerous world. In particular, Dowling’s reaction to when Don Carlos rejects her love is a memorable moment in the show, by turns angry, vulnerable and shocked, her performance adds an emotional core to the production that can be lacking elsewhere.
Overall, Don Carlos is a cat and mouse game that is beautifully built up but at times is a little too heavy handed in the way in which the anger is expressed. But despite this it is an engaging and thought provoking production that successfully highlights just how the ideas that this play raises are still relevant in 2018.
By Emma Clarendon
Don Carlos continues to play at the Rose Theatre until the 17th November. For more information visit: https://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/whats-on/don-carlos