Theater review- Don Carlos, Rose Theatre, Kingston

This will be LONG and SPOILERY (both for production and 200-some year old play). Main takeaway–it’s excellent, if somewhat difficult to follow unless you know the story. Second half significantly better than first, though I think that’s partly down to Schiller. Dead silence at the end, before thunderous applause.

It’s easier to highlight the few things I didn’t like, because there was so much that I did like. Low points–shouty, angry Elisabeth who has none of the calm dignity other characters ascribe to her. The cutting of the entire badminton speech, as well as (necessarily following from that) Rodrigo’s “Was I so eager, so conscientious, that time you bled for me when we were boys?” just before his death. It’s psychologically important to Rodrigo’s character that he’s thinking of that! The removal of Philip’s tears motif–Carlos doesn’t warn him about it in their audience, Philip visibly weeps in the scene with the baby Infanta, and there is no “The King shed tears” sending shockwaves through the grandees after Rodrigo betrays Philip. In my opinion, those two things shouldn’t have been cut (tho I get that the badminton part might have simply come across as ridiculous to the audience). By contrast, the scene between Carlos and Eboli when they misunderstand each other went on WAY too long. Finally, at the very end, Philip shoots Elisabeth before delivering his final line. This takes away from the momentousness of him delivering up Carlos in cold blood, which is where the focus should be. Also EVERYONE talked too fast in the first half, as if trying to cram in all their lines, save perhaps Tom Burke. Also I couldn’t tell at the end whether they were going for a platonic Carlos/Elisabeth endgame or a romantic one (he gives her up, but then kisses her on the mouth).

So most of what I didn’t like (aside from Elisabeth’s acting) was directorial rather than on the actors, who were fantastic. And there was one really clever decision dictated (as Tom Burke told me after the show) by lack of funds but imo played to full advantage. The parts of Rodrigo and the Grand Inquisitor were doubled. This worked SO WELL. The two ideologues of the play, but so different in their beliefs. The two people who influence Philip the most over the course of the play, and who together destroy him.

Doesn’t hurt that Tom Burke can really act.

Particular moments that stood out–Rodrigo’s “Really? Would it?” after Philip claims it would be painful for him if the Inquisition got Rodrigo. The scene between Rodrigo and Elisabeth at the end, of course, though “Life is still beautiful” was delivered somehow a little off. The tenderness between Rodrigo and Carlos, combined with a certain impatience. The embrace “with full right” at the end. The whole audience scene between Philip and Rodrigo, which is when the production really got going (intermission came immediately after it).

The actors who played Carlos and Philip were also standouts. The central triangle between the three of them really carried the play. Philip was loud and abusive and obnoxious, but genuinely curious about Rodrigo and devastated by the endgame. Carlos was all over the place, as he should be, yet good-hearted, and he really matured in the wake of Rodrigo’s sacrifice and delivered his grieving speech to the king so well.

Robert David MacDonald’s translation kept all the important stuff and the elevated language unlike Mike Poulton’s and didn’t have the mistakes of Peter Oswald’s, but it was a bit less than poetic in places—this showed up in Rodrigo’s “dreams of his youth” speech (in which he recommends Carlos “esteem” the “visions” of youthful days). Still, I’m really glad they used this translation.

The actors/director clearly understood the play, both text and subtext, and really delivered on the complexities of the various relationships. The trip from America to see this was totally worth it. On a personal note, I’ve been longing to see this onstage since I was eighteen and here, eight years later, is the payoff.

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