Tuesday 10 August 2010

The Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar Warehouse’s current show (running until 4 Sept) is a production of Heinrich von Kleist’s 1811 play The Prince of Homburg in a new version by Dennis Kelly and directed by Jonathan Munby, who previously scored a big hit at the Donmar with his production of Calderón’s Life Is A Dream. The protagonist of Kleist's play is the young Prince Artur (Charlie Cox) - a young man given to sleep-walking and “in love with the moon” - who falls foul of the Prussian military when he disobeys an order at the Battle of Fehrbellin and finds himself court-martialled by the Elector of Brandenburg (Ian McDiarmid) and facing death for insubordination - this despite the fact that his reckless action resulted in victory for Prussia over their Swedish enemies.

The play might seem something of a museum piece, but, thanks to Kelly’s supple, poetic translation, an austere, uncluttered design by Angela Davies and the intimacy of the Donmar’s great space, it has moments of power and insight, allowing Kleist’s nuanced critique of the military ethos to resonate clearly. The strongest moments pit the Prince against McDiarmid’s Elector, a father-figure to the young man, who, nonetheless, proves a stickler for the military’s philosophy of discipline, order and rule. There’s a marvellous theatrical daring to McDiarmid’s performance here, and he gives the proceedings a shot of energy every single time he appears.

Critics have complained about Kelly's addition of an altered ending that changes the meaning of the play. But for audiences unfamiliar with the original text, the production’s principal flaws are a slight lack of fluidity and some erratic performances. As the Prince, Mr. Cox (who was the hero in Matthew Vaughn's Stardust [2007]) holds the attention through sheer matinee-idol handsomeness; he works hard and looks every inch the dashing romantic prince. The performance ultimately proves solid rather than exceptional, but he does have one memorable, affecting sequence, when pleading desperately for pardon to the Elector’s wife (Siobhan Redmond). Some of the supporting roles lack definition and are performed without distinction, though Redmond, David Burke and Harry Hadden-Paton each work well with what they have. Still, the evening ultimately belongs to McDiarmid, whose wily and continually surprising performance is easily the best reason to see this show.


  1. not a play I am familiar with....but I did like Charlie Cox in the otherwise awful GLORIOUS '39

    very cute

  2. Shame about his fate in GLORIOUS 39, though. Trussed up in an abattoir, I ask you!