29 September 2022
DMITRY (Marylebone Theatre) Review

The Marylebone Theatre is the reincarnation of the Steiner Hall that has traded in its am-dram vibe for a modern auditorium with good sound and comfy seats.  Dmitry is the first production there, and it’s a refurbished and completed version of Friedrich Schiller’s unfinished play “Demetrius”.  According to historical documents, Schiller wrote about half of the play and indicated how he would have liked the rest of it to unfold, but died before getting further with it.  Peter Oswald (once playwright-in-residence at Shakespeare’s Globe and Finborough theatres) did a really good job of taking Schiller’s work and turning it into a cohesive play with a clear plotline, a couple of wonderful twists, and a sensible ending, although the order of events is somewhat adjusted compared to Schiller’s.

I purposefully didn’t read up a ton on the real Demetrius (on whose life Schiller based the play) to let myself be surprised by the action.  The summary on the theatre’s website did a good job of providing the patrons with some basic facts without giving away the juicy bits.  In a nutshell, Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who ruled Russia in mid-1500s, had 6-8 wives and tons of children, most of which died before he did, but two outlived him:  Fyodor (who reigned for a few years and died childless) and Dmitry (who may or may not have been murdered, aged 10, possibly at the behest of Boris Godunov, who appointed himself the ruler of Russia after Fyodor’s death).  Years later, a young man emerged in Poland with definitive proof (or as much of one as was possible at that time) that he was, in fact, Dmitry, Ivan the Terrible’s son, and encouraged the Polish rulers (who hated Godunov already) to support him in claiming the Russian throne back as its rightful ruler.  Throw in intrigue, parental guilt, strategic marriage, figurative skeletons in closets, and you’ve got a show that doesn’t disappoint.

To be fair, some of the dialogue falls a little flat, and some of the jokes don’t really land with the audience.  Other things may or may not have been intended as comedy (e.g., toilet seat), but landed well nonetheless.  The scene with the monastery gardener is pure comedic genius.  Tim Supple’s direction seems to make the most out of everyone’s talents and keeps the cornier of moments from tipping over into panto.

Tom Byrne lights up the stage as Dmitry.  There is a range of thoughts and emotions his character goes through during the play, and Byrne manages for all of them to come across in subtle ways.  There is a strong supporting cast, but it feels that it’s Byrne who holds them all together.  Poppy Miller, as Ivan’s widow, is another character who seems to be fully fleshed out, so that we can understand where she is coming from.  Other key characters, such as Dmitry’s fiancé, the cardinal, Godunov, prince Mnishek, and Korela the Cossack, are there for the plotline, but their “evolution” throughout the play is limited.  We are told something different about each of them as the story progresses, but there are only two characters on a journey here, so it falls to Byrne and Miller to keep us guessing as to what might be coming next.

The accents were a bit spotty (though a good chunk of the cast appeared to be speaking in their own individual accents, which was nice and easy on the ears).  Piotr Baumann as Korela was particularly difficult to understand though.

I saw the the first preview of the show, so there were a few lines flubbed, as well as a small dress-related incident, but, interestingly, none of it took away from the West End feel of this production.  Between the writing, the staging, and the acting, I found myself enjoying the play tremendously because it was just a story:  it didn’t try to shoehorn politics or economy or other topical issues into the production, but stuck to a tale of a young man trying to find his way among friends and enemies.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £8.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Robert

    Has this play been staged previously, whether unfinished or with a different writer treatment? Will try to check it out, sounds interesting!

    1. Moggie

      I genuinely don’t know, as there doesn’t appear to be a lot of info on it, but Wikipedia says the unfinished play premiered in February 1857 at a theatre in Weimar. That might actually be it…

  2. Frank H

    I think I’m going to miss this one. Shame to miss seeing Byrne do Dmitry. I’d like to hear more what he said or did that was so subtle. Great review. Thanks.

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