It’s not often you get the chance to see German “sturm und drang” plays in London, so well done to award-winning ensemble The Faction for taking on Friedrich Schiller. Their new interpretation of his violent tragedy The Robbers attempts to decant some of the storm and stress that shocked audiences in 1781, serving it up with a contemporary twist for the 21st century at the small yet sophisticated New Diorama theatre in Regent’s Place.
The plot revolves around two brothers whose life choices compromise the people closest to them and affect family and friends in increasingly damaging ways. Idealistic Karl (Tom Radford) rebels against his father and becomes the leader of an outlaw gang, while Franz (Andrew Chevalier) seizes this opportunity to turn his family against the absent brother in order to seize the inheritance. Mark Leipacher directs the committed and energetic set of young actors with authority and the testosterone-fuelled scenes featuring the robbers – including a couple of Mexican stand-offs – work well. Cary Crankson stands out as the back-stabbing Spiegelberg, while Chevalier and Radford are solid as the two brothers.
Not all the devices to update the play come off, however. Schiller’s words are translated into sweary council-estate prose, which doesn’t really illuminate the antiquated attitudes towards honour, class, family and religion. It also feels like some of the meatier ideas have been sacrificed in favour of exposition, much of which actually obscures the plot and the character’s motivations.
The production is strongest when it’s at its simplest – the black stage-set slowly filling up with chalk scribblings as the actors send each other letters or count off the men they have killed is clever and effective. The Faction’s commitment to bringing Schiller to a modern audience still feels like a work in progress, but they have the right attitude: this is a bold and muscular approach.
The Robbers is on at the New Diorama until Saturday 22 February 2014, tickets £16 / £13. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.