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Review Round-up: Donmar Stages Schiller's Luise

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Friedrich Schiller's 1783 play Luise Miller opened at the Donmar Warehouse last night (13 June 2011, previews from 8 June) in a new version by Mike Poulton. The penultimate production directed by Donmar artistic director Michael Grandage will run at the Donmar until 30 July.

Luise Miller tells of the love between Ferdinand, a nobleman's son, and the titular Luise, daughter of a middle-class musician. What begins as a hopeful romance quickly descends into tragedy as the intrigue of the community threatens to destroy their love.

Grandage directs Felicity Jones in the title role alongside Alex Kingston, Max Bennett, Ben Daniels, David Dawson, John Light, Finty Williams and Paul Higgins.

The production features set design by Peter McKintosh, lighting by Paule Constable and a score by Adam Cork.

Michael Coveney

“Schiller's bourgeois tragedy Luise Miller, may not have the grandiloquence and epic sweep of his Don Carlos six years ago (which came from the Sheffield Crucible to the West End), but it's a different kettle of German herring altogether ... In Mike Poulton's sinewy and idiomatic new version... the silences and the dramatic tension provide the music, and the production keeps it all fierce and feral. The acting is especially good in scenes where confrontations... take unexpected turns and swivel the play round in another direction ... Alex Kingston really takes off in the scene where Luise's simple virtue and honesty (burningly transmitted by Felicity Jones) reduce her to a shattered husk who knows about love but not how to experience it ... Bennett and Jones are tremendous as the distant cousins of Romeo and Juliet, and Luise's parents are nicely done by Finty Williams as a bustling, fussing peasant mum and Paul Higgins as her impassioned, selfless father, making the most of his Scottish accent ... Good on Grandage, who supplies the familiar Donmar works with Peter McKintosh's simple grey set of brick walls, high windows and a balustrade, beautifully lit by Paule Constable, with a sound score by Adam Cork that seeps from Haydn quartets into swells and hums of modern musical foreboding.”

Paul Taylor

“All flashy, bullying aggressive arrogance, Ben Daniels's excellent Chancellor cites God as the fount of a patriarch's absolute power over his male child ... The titular Luise is here portrayed with a pang-inducing freshness and piercing probity by the lovely Felicity Jones. In her honest presence, the face of Lady Milford (an affecting Alex Kingston) sags with shame and then hardens with retaliatory vindictiveness. She's the ruler's mistress whom Ferdinand is being dictated to marry as a way of increasing his father's political influence. Power and reputation are the ubiquitous false gods here that also drive the well-named, scheming Wurm (an authentically creepy performance by John Light) to blackmail Luise to write a falsely incriminating letter and swear, on the Eucharist he has helpfully brought with him, a binding contract to lie. Highly recommended.”

Michael Billington

Michael Grandage, with his revivals of Don Carlos and Mary Stuart, has made Schiller sexy ... But, though the acting and production carry a tremendous visceral charge, they cannot disguise the fact that the 24-year-old Schiller was still learning his craft as a dramatist ... What starts as a study of class conflict ends in contrived disaster, based on a credulity on Ferdinand's part at which even Othello might blush ... Grandage's production, however, is magnificent ... The acting, as always at this address, is richly textured. Felicity Jones as the naively trusting Luise and Paul Higgins as the musician establish an intense daughter-father relationship that explains why the story attracted Verdi. Ben Daniels as the power-driven chancellor, John Light as his Machiavellian secretary and David Dawson as a fluttering chamberlain convey the poisonous politicking of the Catholic court. And Alex Kingston lends the much-abused Lady Milford a moving sense of isolation. Even if Schiller's play finally lapses into melodrama, it is hard to imagine it being better done.”

Libby Purves
The Times

“It is a penny-dreadful plot, despite the interesting political anger of the first half, and the language in Mike Poulton's fine version is alternately highflown ... It is played with total conviction, and holds its nerve throughout ... Ben Daniels is a grand Chancellor ... John Light gives Wurm a horrid political credibility; David Dawson is a scream as the camp Hofmarschall; and Paul Higgins a touching father to Luise. But it hangs on the women: Felicity Jones is a cleverly subtle Luise, teenage innocence growing into a brave, conflicted, betrayed goodness; Finty Williams is shrill and decent as her mother; and Alex Kingston as the Prince's mistress — splendid but just on the turn into desperate middle age ... If you're bothering to dress the cast in corsets and sword belts, it makes little sense to get them down on all fours writing a letter on the top of a briefcase. The oddity distracts. But it's a great evening.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

“This gutsy version by Mike Poulton breathes fresh life into Schiller's images of precarious liaisons, shadowy desires, backroom skulduggery and the iniquities of class snobbery ... Felicity Jones... is straightforwardly effective, an innocent with a vein of steel running through her ... Ben Daniels projects the right degree of raging savagery as the manipulative Chancellor. Meanwhile John Light impresses as the scheming secretary who sets about trashing Luise's reputation, and David Dawson delights as the foppish gossip with whom she is wrongly alleged to be having an affair. There's also bristlingly vivid work by Alex Kingston as the prince's complex and unexpectedly enlightened mistress ... It's enjoyably full of the pathos and violence associated with the Sturm und Drang movementMichael Grandage... is signing off on a high, and the enthusiasm he has previously shown for Schiller's distinctively operatic writing once again comes across compellingly in this highly accomplished production.”

- Matt Hannigan


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