The young Faction Theatre Company made a powerful impact last year with a three-play rep season at the New Diorama. It included an exceptionally persuasive version of Schiller's Mary Stuart which felt as up-to-date and immediate as breaking news.
Fired by the vision of a large permanent ensemble in a rolling repertoire of stripped-back meaty classics, the outfit return now with their 2013 programme whose opening salvo is a fascinating Schiller rarity.
To the English ear, a piece called Fiesco offers a hefty hostage to fortune but in this much belated UK premiere, director Mark Leipacher and team produce a strong case for the dramatist's youthful second play.
Performed in modern dress and given a sardonically contemporary turn of phrase in the robust new adaptation by Leipacher and Daniel Millar, the drama unfolds in sixteenth century Genoa where a Republican conspiracy is stirring against the corrupt ruling Doria family.
To succeed, they need to recruit to their cause the title character, a former war hero turned hedonistic playboy. But what kind of game does this charismatic, devious figure (incisively played by Richard Delaney) think he's up to as he hides his plans for revolt behind a false front of dissolution?
The play is compelling partly because Fiesco appears for so long to be an insoluble enigma even to himself. On the one hand, he proclaims that “To win a crown is great. To reject it is divine”. Then, in the very next soliloquy, he's arguing that exceptional beings cannot be expected to conform to the moral standards of the herd.
The conspirators are right to suspect that the liberator of today can turned by the self-same drive into the dictator of tomorrow.
The great thing about Faction is that they refuse to hide behind either preconceptions or scenic effects. In a bare black box, with only the occasional use of rubber animal masks to suggest a human jungle, the vivid 13-strong conjure up a tangled, teeming world of plot and counter-plot where the less than pure motives of some of the conspirators seem to be satirised by the cheerfully amoral and mercenary Hassan (an amusingly impudent Anna-Maria Nabirye), Fiesco's fickle Moorish spy and where, in the eloquently angled mimed movement, the crowds often face away from us and look to be literally as well as metaphorically demonstrating against a brick wall.
It is not just the Schiller completist who will find this fluent, fiercely committed production rewarding.
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