Crucible associate director Michael Grandage’s final production as director for Sheffield is a powerhouse study of politics and family passion. Newly-translated by Mike Poulton, Schiller’s seven-hour epic of life at the court of Philip II now comes in at under three hours and becomes a tense, thundering melodrama.
At one level it is a study of the nature of dictatorship and its relationship with the church - a theme as relevant today as it ever was. But Grandage knows that the heart of this drama is the dysfunctional family of the king, unable to relate to his idealistic son, cold to his dutiful wife and completely divorced from any sense of humanity. It is an extraordinary performance from Derek Jacobi, cold and cruel but brought to thrilling life by flashes of grim, wicked humour and unexpected and explosive moments of intense passion.
Richard Coyle’s Carlos may be a very different man but the intensity of his own feelings does reveal a surprising link with his father as they move towards the final and inevitable tragedy of a family at war. Claire Price is outstanding as the captive royal wife Elizabeth, with premier division support from Elliot Cowan as the noble Rodrigo, Una Stubbs transformed into an monster of protocol and Ian Hogg as a professional courtier and survivor.
Played at an almost unbearable level on intensity, this is a production that never slackens its grip as it heads towards a thundering climax. It may be handsome costume drama - Christopher Oram’s design is severe and superb - but it is also a fine example of a political thriller at its most exciting, heavy with atmosphere and passion.