I enjoyed my first experience of a Schiller play last year with a production of Intrigue and Love
so was excited to see the Donmar would be staging another, Luise Miller
. I was disappointed, therefore, to find out it was in fact the same play, Mike Poulton having opted to revert to a title Schiller had originally considered and been talked out of. I still figured it'd be worth seeing of course so booked, although the title change remains a bit silly to me to be honest - the reason stated in the programme, of fitting in with other German "domestic tragedies" is a bit irrelevant, and despite centering on young lovers the play remains an ensemble piece so it never feels as if it's all about the title character. Besides, her name is actually pronounced "Luisa" throughout so the change of title makes even less sense.
On to the play itself though, and Michael Grandage's penultimate production as Artistic Director of the venue. Title aside, Poulton's version of the play is strong, clear and nicely sprinkled with humour. In the first few scenes I was really noticing how well Schiller manages to get across tons of exposition in dialogue that almost resembles a conversation actual people might have; in fact after a while Poulton throws in a gag about the sheer amount of plot we've had so far. Grandage has assembled a strong cast, the star name being Alex Kingston; she gets to add another cougar to River Song as Lady Milford, the unseen Prince's mistress in love with young Ferdinand. She doesn't disappoint in a performance of much subtlety and slyness that makes you believe she's acquired a lot of power in the court. She's actually only in a handful of scenes and her absence in the rest of the play would probably be felt more keenly if the rest of the cast weren't strong. Fortunately Max Bennett and Felicity Jones are likeable and believably conflicted as Ferdinand and Luise, Paul Higgins and Finty Williams provide a grounded element as her parents, Ben Daniels is imposing as the Chancellor and John Light resists the temptation to go too panto with the sinister Wurm. I've not always been sure about David Dawson but he's been cast to his strengths here as the foppish gossip von Kalb. I sometimes found the blocking a bit awkward-looking and the tragedy is never quite emotionally engaging but if the constantly winding plot makes it hard to really feel for the lovers it at least unfolds with perfect clarity in a production that hurtles along entertainingly.Luise Miller
by Friedrich Schiller in a version by Mike Poulton is booking until the 30th of July at the Donmar Warehouse.