Prince of Homburg
military officer disobeys a direct order and wins the battle. Should
they give him a medal or put him in front of a firing squad?
Heinrich von Kleist's 1811 drama than that - some sleepwalking, a
romance, a mutiny in the ranks, a Pirandello-like 'What is reality?'
theme - but the central moral and human question is the backbone of the
play, particularly in this somewhat stripped-down (under two hours,
including long interval) new version by Dennis Kelly.
its best the
play poses real difficulties for an audience. The various plot strands
don't always hang together, and the dream-or-reality question appears
at the beginning and end and is all but forgotten in between. And while
the debate over the Prince's fate makes us happy to shift our
sympathies back and forth as the case for each side is made, the
characters themselves keep changing, making it hard to hang on to them.
shy girl suddenly
becomes brave and eloquent. A hard-nosed general seems to soften but
just shifts to a darker sort of coldness. The Prince himself begins as
a moony dreamer, then is absolutely confident he'll be treated as a
hero, then turns to abject and cowardly grovelling for his life, then
accepts his fate with dignity, then .
. . .
gets so that
whenever any characters come onstage you can't be sure they'll be the
same persons they were the last time you saw them. Even so, the play
can work, from scene to scene if not as a whole, as long as we're given
the opportunity to care about these characters and to recognise that
the issues matter to them.
condensed version and Jonathan Munby's bare-bones production don't give
us that chance. For one thing, Kelly changes the play's ending
completely, eliminating the Pirandello element, and darkening the tone
of all that came before.
translation also grates on the ear - waiting to hear his death
sentence, the Prince asks 'How'm I doing?'
find the core of continuity that would make the Prince's very different
behaviours in each scene seem part of the same character, and while
Sonya Cassidy is strong in her big scene arguing for his life, she
seems to come out of nowhere and retreat back into it.
is almost always
the case, Ian McDiarmid quietly steals the show as the ruler/general
deciding the Prince's fate. He uses the man's Prussian discipline as
the key to the character and makes everything the man does make sense
in that light.
also shows us
the man thinking - there is one silent sequence following the girl's
plea in which his face takes us through the whole process of
considering, rejecting, and coming up with a new twist - and thus
ironically brings us deeper into the antagonist of the play than the
moments in this production, and perhaps you can piece together what the
play wanted to do as a whole, but you're not given a lot of help.
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- Prince of Homburg - Donmar 2010