Critically acclaimed writer, Peter Oswald has a name for thinking big. He definitely fulfils his legacy with Dmitry, an adaptation of the notorious Friedrich Schiller play Demetrius, which was left unfinished after the playwright’s death in 1805. This is Oswald’s attempt at bringing it back to life.
His latest production plays at the impressively designed new Marylebone Theatre, located at the Rudolf Steiner House. Inspired by true events of the early 17th Century, it tells the story of a young man called Dmitry, who claims to be the youngest son of the cruel Ivan the Terrible and thus heir to the throne. He joins with the Poles and Cossacks to reinstate his kingdom and get his rightful crown back from Russia. We are led on a rollercoaster journey, questioning who Dmitry really is and who will win the Russian power.
Oswald’s chosen form, like that of Shakespeare and Marlowe, is poetry and verse drama; and in many aspects for the modern theatre this is not a great choice, coming across as more of a ‘so 1950’s’ type of play. To me it was invigorating to see writing on the London stage that clearly combines deep knowledge of classical literature and dramaturgy. After a month at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, encountering a number of insubstantial shows, some hearty, mind-altering dialogue to get swept away by is exactly what the doctor ordered. However, like Marmite, it is not everybody’s cup of tea.
Tim Supple, former director of London’s Young Vic, brings out the emotions effectively through revealing scenes where we see Dmitry’s paranoia unfold. The main character is acted brilliantly by Tom Byrne, whilst his mother’s hallucinations are emotively brought to life by Poppy Miller. However, Daniel York Loh’s Boris has similarities to Stalin and Putin which did leave me questioning if the portrayal was too obvious and therefore verging on bad taste.
Of course, it was relevant. We are left with a chilling statement “Russia will change the world; the world won’t change Russia”, and themes of the conflict between Russia and the West. There are reminders of war, church disloyalty and of religion’s part to play, grief and longing: all in the new context of the tragic events in Ukraine this year.
Oswald is an innovative, daring and poetic genius. The show is, however, let down by distasteful, clashing rock music between scenes and over-dramatic fight, dance and movement sequencing. Poor costume choices come across as slightly tacky. That aside, the script and performance are the opposite and it’s an outstanding piece of theatre that could allude to a theatrical version of Game of Thrones.
Don’t see this if you are looking for a lightweight evening. But if you are ready to see some proper, meaty and dialogue-heavy theatre, you’d be silly to not add Dmitry to your list.
Written by: Peter Oswald
Adapted from a play by: Friedrich Schiller
Directed by: Tim Supple
Design by: Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting Design by: Jackie Shemesh
Sound Design by: Max Pappenheim
Movement Direction by: Mike Ashcroft
Dmitry plays at Marylebone Theatre until 05 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.