Monday, 30 August 2010

Danton's Death - National Theatre, Wednesday 11th August 2010

Three revolutionary groups are presented at the start of the play - Danton's supporters, Robespierre's supporters, and those who do not agree with how the Revolution has evolved. Danton and Robespierre have different views on how to pursue the revolution - Danton's supporters back the end of Robespierre's repressive measures, which have already caused great suffering among the people, and they dod not find in the Revolution the answer to the material and moral questions facing mankind. One citizen deplores the fact that his daughter has been forced into prostitution to support her family. Danton accepts his friends' proposal to meet Robespierre but this meeting proves to be fruitless and Robespierre resolves that Danton must be killed, though he still doubts that this decision is just.

Danton's friends press him to fight or flee Robespierre's supporters, but Danton does not see any need to do so and does not believe that the French National Convention will dare to act against him. Danton confides the guilt he feels for the September Massacres in his wife Julie. Danton is imprisoned and led before the National Assembly, which is divided - it feels it has no choice but to acquit him. However, Robespierre and Saint-Just reverse its opinion.

The prisoners discuss the existence of God and life, and an attempt to prove that God does not exist fails. Danton's supporters are transferred to the Conciergerie. During this time the revolutionary tribunal arranges for its jury to be made up of honest and faithful men. Danton appears confidently before the tribunal, impressing the public with his willingness for justice to be done. Seeing the hearers' sympathy for Danton, the court is adjourned. The tribunal's members invent a plot to change the public's mind. At the tribunal's second sitting, the people stop supporting Danton, due to his lifestyle. Danton's liberal programme is revealed as unacceptable to the masses.
Danton and his supporters are condemned to death. Danton and his friend Camille Desmoulins exchange thoughts on life and death. Danton's wife Julie, to whom he has pledged to be loyal beyond death, posions herself at their home. The people show themselves to be curious and ironic on Danton's way to the scaffold. When Lucile Desmoulins sees her husband Camille mount the scaffold, she goes mad and resolves to die too, crying "Long live the king!" and thus guaranteeing her own death sentence.

Danton: Toby Stevens
Legendre: Ashley Zhangazha
Desmoulins: Barnaby Kay
Lacroix (sweetie!): Gwilym Lee
Julie: Kirsty Bushell
Lucille: Rebecca O'Mara
Marion: Eleanor Matsuura
Robespierre: Eliot Levey
Creative Team:
Adapted by Howard Brenton from Georg Buchner
Director: Michael Grandage
Designer: Christopher Oram
Lighting: Paule Constable.

Yes, yes, this is three weeks or so late, I know. Its been hell around Castle TheatreReviews of late, and all my spare time recently has been taken up playing Farmville on Facebook and writing outraged Emails to my local branch of Sainbury's about their new Self Service tills. Such is life.

Even if I hadn't had to go to the dentists and have two fillings on the morning of this show, I don't think I would have enjoyed this very much; in fact I can best describe it as "fucking dreary". To paraphrase Victoria Wood's sketch about Othello: "I don't think its got a plot; its just various people talking - and sometimes they do things in brackets". Fortunately, there was no interval so the agony was over within an hour and a half. The set was just as dreary as the play itself , evoking the interior of the Donmar Warehouse and circled with enormous shutters that required constant opening and closing by a couple of "Citizens" who had nothing else to do but walk round and open them, wait for a couple of minutes while a couple of lines got spouted by various people standing on tables declaiming to the downtrodden masses metaphorically waving their pitchforks and making outraged "rhubarbe rhubarbe" noises in French accents, and then go round and close them all again. One of the problems of this type of play, much like The White Guard, is that you have to have a very good grounding in all the historical comings and goings to fully understand what is going on and why, and who everybody is, and why everyone is getting in such a flap about things. If you don't, then you spend much of the time trying to sort out the good guys from the bad and trying to decide who's side you are on and why. Once you start to realise that you've set yourself an impossible task, you eventually start to tune out and stop caring, particularly when the lead character is played as an arrogant c*nt. And so it was here - I know some odds and ends about the French Revolution, but my interest rather peters out once Marie Antoinette's head has fallen in the bucket; my understanding about the political upheaval in the years which followed this event is - to put it bluntly - nil points. Until the bloke playing Robespierre was addressed as "Citizen Robespierre", I thought he was Talleyrand, ffs.

The only thing worthwhile in this production, which seemed to go on all night even though it was very short (there's only so much declaiming and rhubarbe that you can take in one go) was the final couple of minutes in which we were mercifully rid of Dreary Monsieur Danton and his equally Dreary Amis with the aid of Madame Guillotine's hairdressing device ("Just a little bit more off the top, I think") - even though the machine itself was woefully small, it was so spectacularly cleverly done that real heads appeared to be falling into the basket It even seems to have shut Les Madames Defarge up for five minutes or so (which is always a Very Good Thing). In fact, Danton's Death was the most interesting bit of his entire life.

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