The Robbers

Friedrich Schiller, translated and adapted by Mark Leipacher and Danny Miller
The Faction Theatre Company
New Diorama Theatre

The Robbers publicity photo

There are many problems to beset a playwright translating and updating a play: do they keep it in the same time period? Do they make the language more modern? Or do they try to do too much, as in the Faction's version of The Robbers.

Karl has been living in a forest Robin Hood style for eighteen years with a group of bandits who are misguidedly fighting for an abstract notion of freedom. At home, his love Amalia pines for him, as does his father, Count Maximilian von Moor. His younger brother Franz, however, is manipulative and ambitious. Wanting his father's vast inheritance, he tries to convince the dying old man to disinherit his wayward brother.

In Act One, the two brothers have very separate scenes and their storylines don't much affect each other. As a result, it's almost like watching two different plays at once. Dressed in a high-necked shirt and black leather gloves, Delaney's melodramatic Franz looks like a camp James Bond villain who's taken movement lessons from Will and Grace's Jack. Even more melodramatically, Kate Sawyer as Amalia and Alan Boot as Count Max shout and wail their way through the script. On the other hand, Karl is played admirably with quiet and subtlety by Michael Lindall. He and his group of bandits play their scenes much more naturalistically.

The play is set in a time period long before our own, yet the characters are dressed in modern clothes and their swords are accompanied by guns. Add this to the mismatched acting styles and the play becomes a mess of contradictions.

Despite the flaws, Act One is often amusing and the use of the space is energetic and creative. There is enough variety and intrigue to keep the audience from getting bored.

Then Act Two starts.

Naturalism is dropped as the characters become increasingly more melodramatic. Kate Sawyer's Amalia and Booty's Count Max continue to shout and wail. As Franz becomes more and more paranoid, he becomes more and more extreme, ranting and railing, waving his arms around and using a vocal range that would make a pantomime dame proud. Even the calm of Karl is lost as he becomes tortured by his conscience and emotions; he too becomes melodramatic. It's like watching Shakespeare being performed by a group of actors who know the audience won't understand the language and so overcompensate.

Where in Act One there are contradictions and contrasts, Act Two is an outpouring of passionate speeches about how everyone feels. At the end of the three hour play, the audience feels blasted and numbed.

Schiller's original script of The Robbers may have been suitable for its 18th century audience, but there's too much going on in the adaptation by Mark Leipacher and Danny Millar for a 21st century audience to connect to it. It's possible that, as director as well as writer, Leipacher may have not been detached enough to pick out the important moments in the script to focus on. Instead, everything was treated with equal importance and rammed down the audiences throats in a cacophony of emotion. As the characters plead for release at the end, so do the audience.

Running until 27th November

Reviewer: Emma Berge

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