Dmitry at Marylebone Theatre
The brand-new performance space at Marylebone Theatre kicks off with a bold launch by resurrecting Friedrich Schiller’s unfinished play (completed by Peter Oswald) about power struggles in 1600s Russia and a false tsar.
A murderous tyrant rules the country (now where have we heard that before?), but a man claiming to be Dmitry, the son of Ivan the Terrible, suddenly appears in Poland and raises an army to march on Moscow. The play is based (albeit loosely) on the events of one of the most politically turbulent times in Russian history. It simplifies a complicated web that saw a procession of different tsars, none of whom lasted more than a few years, into one simple(ish) and epic tale.
Every character has a deceitful agenda: Dmitry is backed by the Poles, who want to remove the threat of Russia, the Cossacks, who want office in Moscow, the Vatican, who want to crush the Orthodox Russian church and convert the nation to Catholicism, and Ivan’s wife, who wants the death of the man who sent assassins after her family.
Truth versus falsity seems to be the big theme here. What will win out in the end, the truth or the lies? Is truth good when it might have the worst consequences? Are lies bad when they prop up something good? And is good sullied if it’s propped up with lies? Ultimately the result is two sides of a battle where neither is obviously right or wrong. For sure, an interesting exploration of the grey area in between, but since the audience are neither given a hero to cheer for nor a villain to boo, few emotions can be elicited when one side wins or one side loses. The shock, the fear, the relief, the happiness that some shows can force upon their audience is exchanged for a constant whir of “hmm, yes, interesting”. As such, Dmitry is good but never quite hits hard enough.
It’s well staged (except when a blinding bright light is pointed directly at the audience) at the wonderful new Marylebone Theatre. The set is a classy, wooden affair, a simple design but a rich style. And the new theatre itself is a joy to attend (finally an intimate modern theatre that isn’t painted all black).
It seems hard to picture who Dmitry is for – who is out there seeking a play on an early 1600s Orthodox Russia standing against the Roman Catholic West and the political turbulence thereof? And no, it really doesn’t offer a timely commentary about present day Russia; it’s closer to Game of Thrones than the reality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Dmitry certainly an epic story and it is told in an interesting and enjoyable way, but it almost feels more like a academic exploration than anything that will really stir an audience.
Photo: Ellie Kurtz
Dmitry is at Marylebone Theatre from 29th September until 5th November 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.