Wallenstein, Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Rhoda Koenig
Friday 06 December 2013 06:12

Schiller's verse drama of a fallen idol, rarely seen here, deserves to be much better known, especially in such a thrilling production as this one by Angus Jackson – this season's associate director – who gets better all the time.

Completed in 1799, the trilogy can run to ten hours, and has here been compressed, by Mike Poulton, to less than three. For the most part, however, it does not feel rushed – rather, jet-propelled. A superb cast, whose verse-reading is supple and muscular, drive this tale of a military commander who defies God, emperor, and nation until all that awaits him is a knife or a noose. "The dark angel that I've unleashed," cries Wallenstein, "flies ahead of me!"

Iain Glen, jaunty and indomitable in an aggressive little beard (though more theatrical than military), is the leader of the Holy Roman army in the early-17th century. Halfway through the Thirty Years' War, he becomes impatient with a ruler who expects swift, constant victories but has not paid his cold, hungry men in a year. Charged with ignoring the command to attack, he audaciously informs his Catholic emperor, "Here I stand."

It is hardly surprising, after this, that he makes common cause with the Protestant Swedes, who promise him the throne of Bohemia. The play rattles with echoes of Macbeth and Coriolanus, and also of our own religious wars.

Splendid as Wallenstein is, our sympathy goes, instead, to the anguished Count Octavio and his idealistic son, Max, who calls Wallenstein "father" and is destroyed when his hero espouses the pragmatism that Max calls treachery. The play here feels underwritten, and Anthony Calf's sensitive Count leaves us puzzled as to why Max (a heartbreakingly stern-yet-fragile Max Irons) would reject him. Annabel Scholey, as Wallenstein's daughter, is charming in her early, light-hearted scenes, but, when called upon for shattering grief, is just earnestly polite.

The sober-flamboyant rhetoric of Wallenstein is matched by Robert Innes Hopkins' felicitous set, a stone floor and a battered iron wall slashed with the red of uniform blouses and blood.

To 13 June (01243 781312; www.cft.org.uk)

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