The Faction continues to present Schiller plays (Fiesco and Mary Stuart in recent years) which are unfamiliar to most members of most audiences. And this one, The Robbers, comes in a reasonably upbeat new translation by Daniel Millar and Mark Leipacher, who also directs, into modern-ish English. Nonetheless it's a rather wordy piece with some very unlikely plot twists and more shooting than most Westerns.
It's the story of two brothers and their father, all three of them flawed to a greater or lesser extent and we are led to think about paternal love, sibling rivalry, loyalty, forgiveness and vengeance. It reminded me variously of the story of the prodigal son, the Faust legend, King Lear, The Pirates of Penzance and the Robin Hood stories. Andrew Chevalier as Franz the evil, manic, and totally unredeemed brother with glowing eyes and the traditional villain's twisted body, gives a masterly performance. Karl, as the absent brother who takes to outlaw life with a renegade group of former students, is arguably more of a complex mix and Tom Radford finds plenty of troubled dignity and depth in the role.
Kate Sawyer plays Amalia, the woman languishing for Karl at home, with wide-eyed contralto passion. Jeryl Burgess makes a beautiful job of both Feigling, the resolute messenger trying to bargain with the robbers, and of Daniela the Christian servant who tries so hard to be loyal but is deeply troubled by some of what she's ordered to do. Damian Lynch creates a charismatic Schweizer and Cary Crankson is good value as Spiegelberg.
The ensemble work – a Faction strength – is as watchable as ever and Leipacher's trademark fondness for slow motion is particularly effective at one point in the second half when he has six men moving down stage almost imperceptibly with menacing unison hissing. And chalking the scenery on the back wall as the play unfolds works well as does the rapid, excited adrenaline-fuelled addition of five bar gates as the robbers kill more and more people.
Plenty to admire in this show then and it's a real treat to see a company of actors in three plays in repertory (this is the third and last season) doing a wide range of different things. On the other hand it is too long, occasionally a bit wooden and at times (all that shooting) it risks straying dangerously near to farce.