Last night, I watched a play which constituted a fresh, uncompromising broadside against authoritarian and bloodthirsty theocracy and a hymn to both romanticism as well as human agency and liberty. It wears its radical anti-clericalism on its sleeve: I was astounded that Stephen Green was not there with his placards.
Schiller’s Don Carlos, written on the eve of the French revolution, and it shows. “Don Carlos” said Schiller, “has the soul of Hamlet … and my own pulse”. That pulse beats with the spirit of the Enlightenment. That may be true of the play but it isn’t true of Don Carlos the man; driven, as he is, by an uncontrollable passion. Ranked against him are the hideous shades of the Inquisition and directly in his path is his unloving, tyrannical father, the King.
The production is sensational: as you walk into the theatre, the first thing you smell is the musk of the incense, swinging from a sencer which sweeps across the dark renaissance interior of the stage. Its a powerful metaphor. This is a state in which the Church and absolute monarchial authority is pervasive and all consuming. Heretics are being burnt in Madrid and the smoke fills the stage. Derek Jacobi’s King Phillip II as uncompromising in his will to control; Don Carlos is ungovernable. Both are fatally undone by their natures, and are therefore lost.
I know its a bit like asking for more news about kittens, but I wish there were more plays like that.
Don Carlos’s run is nearly over in the West End but it will be coming to Broadway in the fall.