Buchner's French Revolution drama, here in a new version by Howard
Brenton, is the sort of 19th-century play in which everyone takes every
opportunity to make grand rabble-rousing speeches.
there are no
rabble around, they make grand speeches at each other, and if they find
themselves alone they soliloquise in grand speeches. I'm not sure there
are more than a few isolated moments of natural conversation in the
that may sound
pretty dreary, and to be honest, with all those waves of oratory coming
at you and not much to look at, you may well find your eyelids
drooping. But even as you have trouble keeping awake, you can recognise
that this is the sort of play, and its hero is the sort of role, that a
grand actor in the nineteenth-century mode could have a field day with.
I can imagine Irving, or even Olivier, tearing up the place with the combination of passion, eloquence and just plain sexiness that Buchner gives to Danton.
But I have to
report that, for all his unquestioned talent - he is attractive, he
speaks well, and he does suggest a real human being behind all the
verbiage - Toby Stephens is not (or not yet) that kind of matinee idol,
and he just can't carry the sagging weight of the whole play on his
in the middle
of the Reign of Terror, when the revolutionaries have killed off the
nobility and any inconvenient extremists among them, and have now begun
feeding on themselves.
hard-line and puritan Robespierre is determined to purge the more
moderate we've-won-so-let's-relax Danton, offended as much by Danton's
enjoyment of life as by his politics.
confidence that he's untouchable, through outrage, to stoic acceptance
(and perhaps a premonition that Robespierre would follow him to the
guillotine in a few months). And he speechifies at every opportunity
along the way, as does Robespierre and just about anyone else who can
grab a metaphorical soapbox for a few moments.
what I suspect
is a design error, everybody is costumed pretty much the same, so you
may have difficulty telling them apart, or even picking Stephens'
Danton out of a group.
Robespierre an appropriate coldness, except for one soliloquy in which
he admits to fear of his heavily-repressed emotions, but Buchner (or
Brenton) relegates him to the role of behind-the-scenes manipulator,
giving many of the rabble-rousing speeches that ought by rights to be
his to his Number Two man, Saint-Just, played with spirit by Alec
Two, Desmoulins, is conceived as something of a caught-up-in-the-mess
victim, and Barnaby Kay generates some sympathy in the role. The only
other performer and character to register is Kirsty Bushell, carrying
considerable nobility and moral power as Danton's wife.
Grandage does his best to make all the oratory alive and interesting,
and tries to disguise the static quality of most scenes by punctuating
them with a handful of people (who?) rushing across an upper stage (to
where?), to give the impression that something may actually be
happening somewhere while everybody is standing around talking at each
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- Danton's Death - National Theatre 2010