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Theatre review: Dmitry by Schiller (Marylebone Theatre)

21 October 2022

Simon Walsh reviews a topical reimagining of an unfinished drama

Ellie Kurtz

Tom Byrne as Dmitry and Ammar Haj Ahmad as the Patriarch of Moscow in Dmitry at the Marylebone Theatre

Tom Byrne as Dmitry and Ammar Haj Ahmad as the Patriarch of Moscow in Dmitry at the Marylebone Theatre

RUSSIA at war with the West, a leadership in dispute, and a daring challenge to unseat the regime: modern-day rock music may begin proceedings, but it is the early 17th century in a new version of Schiller’s Dmitry.

The production launches the Marylebone Theatre. (New London venues are like buses: another one soon to open is Soho Place, at the new Tottenham Court Road station development.) Alongside Regent’s Park, the Marylebone occupies Rudolf Steiner House’s original auditorium, now beautifully refurbished as a modern studio-style space.

Like Mozart, Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) left, on his death, an incomplete work with sketches. Initially known as Demetrius, it has now been reimagined by Peter Oswald, whose translation of Schiller’s Mary Stuart was brilliantly successful, and the Marylebone’s artful Alexander Gifford. Joined by the director Tim Supple, they take Schiller’s “two acts and then copious notes” to conceive a new interpretation for our times: intense contemporary drama, bold and taut enough to make Schiller proud.

Boris Godunov is on the throne of Russia, and the previous imperial family is dispersed. Its son and heir, Dmitry, believed assassinated, has now been uncovered in Poland as a young man, and he comes forward to claim his destiny, backed by the Poles and the Church of Rome. The former Tsarina is also located in a monastery far away in the east of Russia. She is brought to rally the gathering forces as they march on Moscow, except — can this really be true?

Shortly before reuniting with his long-lost mother, in battleside scenes worthy of Shakespeare, Dmitry is told by the same assassin that he is not the true Tsarovich, merely the prince’s friend. The gold baptismal cross that is passed around to confirm his royal identity was removed from the dead child and is, therefore, a lie. Moments later, in private, Tsarovich Maria arrives and dashes all her hopes in confirming this. But they vow a pact to fight on all the same, avenge Dmitry’s death, and restore Russia. It cannot end well.

The Schillerian themes are all brought vividly to life: individuals who stand in the course of history and might change it with a single action; humanity’s noble potential; the evils of oppression and terror.

A large cast of nearly 30 holds much talent. Poppy Miller brings white fury to the widowed Tsarovich Maria and her constant bereavement; Tom Byrne’s Dmitry has presence, even if his vocal work sometimes falters. Daniel York Loh’s Godunov matches Mark Hadfield’s Polish Prince Mnishek for politically ambitious scheming. James Garnon’s silver-fox Cardinal Odaolowalsky is a tower of intrigue: a Richelieu in perfect cassock and skullcap one minute, combat fatigues the next.

Aurora Dawson-Hunte as Dmitry’s bride adds tenderness; Piotr Baumann’s Cossack Korela brings brute force. Ammar Haj Ahmad shows that the Patriarch of Moscow has long been inclined to meddle. Robert Innes Hopkins’s convincing costumes range from the present day to Edwardian courts.

The work illuminates a much-overlooked theme, relations between Russia and Rome, and deserves a wide audience — even in the Vatican, if it is not too late.

Dmitry is at the Marylebone Theatre, Rudolf Steiner House, 35 Park Road, London NW1, until 5 November. Box office: phone 020 7723 7984. www.marylebonetheatre.com

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