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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Lazarus Theatre Company present


Don Carlos


by Friedrich Schiller


Directed by Ricky Dukes


Design by Andy Robinson


Blue Elephant Theatre


1 – 26 November 2011

A classic tragedy written in 18th Century Spain, Schiller's Don Carlos is a gripping tale revolving around love and power. At the Blue Elephant Theatre a passionate cast illustrate the story with compelling force which is compounded by marvellous direction of movement from Ria Whitton and Ricky Dukes. The audience enter into a smoky, hazy scene which sets the tone for the whole production - many of the key moments are imbued with an air of secrecy, and impending deceit patently underlies all the action. Effective lighting ensures this mood is unfaltering throughout the production. An ominous chorus from the ensemble instils an ominous sense of gravity.

Through a revealing exchange between a subdued Don Carlos (Douglas Rutter) and enthusiastic Marquis De Posa (David Palmstrom) it becomes clear that King Philip of Spain's (Robin Holden) Queen, Elizabeth of France (Sherine Calhie), was once Don Carlos's beloved, before his father gained her hand through political means. Once this terrible love triangle is revealed the dramatic tension in the play hinges on its resolution and a series of shrouded meetings and concealed notes culminate in a passionate and moving meeting between the Queen and Don Carlos.

The Marquis De Posa is the driving force in the effort to reunite his friend Don Carlos with the inimitable Queen, once his beloved and in a cruel twist of fate, now his stepmother. Palmstrom plays De Posa with admirable earnestness; he convincingly wins everyone's favour. The only one to cheer up melancholy Don Carlos, he also woos the ladies at court and wins the trust of Queen Elizabeth. He even convinces unfeeling King Philip that he is a man of honour.

Scenes change through skilful arrangement and the lights dim as the cast move furniture and props effortlessly. The scenes weave in and out of one another in this way and often the characters that are not directly part of a particular scene sit or stand in the shadows at the edge of the stage. Whether they remain completely still or make slow, deliberate movements, this serves to enhance the claustrophobic nature of the Spanish court. This is a place where, upon finding the Queen alone, the King banishes the attendant he thinks responsible for leaving her.

This moving shadow effect is especially well utilised when Princess Eboli (Alice Brown) attempts to seduce Don Carlos, mistakenly supposing he is romantically interested in her. Brown gives a persuasive performance which reels the audience in while the ensemble, gathered at the edge of the stage, mirror her seduction techniques in slow motion meaning that when she is humiliated through inevitable rejection her shame is all the more palpable and her desire to get revenge on her “rival” understandable.

Robin Holden is excellent as King Philip. Hard - cold and without feeling for his son he is nonetheless visibly wounded by the betrayal he discovers. As the revolt against him begins to simmer, his anxiety is very real. He conveys the mindset of a broken King while convincingly keeping his role as father separate and unexplored; the difference between the two has been poignantly illustrated early in the play by Don Carlos seeking an hour with his father while promising not to take the king.

The costumes, designed by Rebecca Mills, while having an authentic Spanish flavour to them, are sleek and modern. Queen Elizabeth (Sherine Chalhie) is especially well adorned and has the only notable costume change, from delicate cream satin to black when events take a more dismal turn towards the end of the play. Both of her dresses perform the function of illustrating her position in the court, setting her apart from the ladies around her. Suits and uniforms are the costumes of choice for the male characters, and there is a special significance when a flailing King Philip, usually obsessed by appearance, takes the stage semi-clad toward the end of the play.

This intense and accomplished production is wholly engaging and the intimacy of the the Blue Elephant theatre creates a sense that even the audience are part of this oppressive, and ultimately destructive Spanish Court.

Box Office: 020 7701 0100
Blue Elephant Theatre, 59a Bethwin Road, Camberwell, London SE5 QXT
Tickets: £12.50 (£10 concessions)

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