Presented by Independent Theatre
Reviewed 02 August 2019
History plays can often be a risk when it comes to theatre with topics that can be dull to some and actors forced to dish out a history lesson as the script dictates. This was not in any way a concern with Independent Theatre’s production Don Carlos.
Set in Spain in 1567-8, at the height of Spain’s colonial power, King Philip the Second struggles to deal with the unrest of his subjects in the Netherlands. His son Don Carlos returns to Spain full of philosophical ideas that were spreading throughout Europe at the time, eager to change the ridged, religious and ritualised country of his birth. Although his passion to change Spain is strong, he attends to two other pressing issues first; stop a slaughter in the Netherlands and to woo the woman who holds his heart, his stepmother Queen Elisabeth of Spain. The story is rich with court intrigue, the passion of unattainable love and the hidden machinations of governing an empire.
The play originally written 1783-7, it is often referred to as the German Hamlet in both the huge strides of a tormented young man forced into a debilitating moral and emotional conundrum and its almost pentameter written script. So lyrical the script is at times, it is unsurprising the play has been on a number of occasions adapted and composed as an opera.
At a first glance the stage of the latest Independent show Don Carlos is simple and clean. Strong lines and a simple minimalist set is most appropriate for building the ambiance of a heightened emotional state that much of the show is in. The atmosphere of ever present danger is encouraged with a large set of doors, foreboding religious iconography and pillars that people hide behind. The audience can easily be unsettled by the simple and effective use of space and shadow.
The cast makes every use of the marvellous piece they have been given with excellent performances across the board. Ben Francis fills the stage with his portrayal as Don Carlos embodying the prince in a believable and moving way. His friend and confidante Rodrigo, performed by Will Cox are a finely matched pair, each feeding on the others highly refined performances. Stuart Pearce is a believably strong King Philip and just like with Francis and Cox, he was able to feed off the solid performances of Madeline Herd as Queen Elisabeth and Emma Bleby’s Princess Eboli. The smaller characters were just as moving with their performances, with no cast member a lag on the ensemble. If there were minor concerns with blocking and upstaging (as there is with every show) it did not detract from an all rounded impressive play.
With a collection of strong performers, an effective minimalist set and a good script, without much difficulty it results in Don Carlos being a seamlessly flowing and involving show.
Reviewed by Simon Lancione
Disclaimer: Ben Francis is an Arts reviewer for Glam Adelaide