Dmitry- Marylebone Theatre

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Peter Oswald with Alexander J. Gifford after Friedrich Schiller

Director: Tim Supple

It seems to be a good time to open a new theatre with a couple appearing in Central London within weeks of one another. The Marylebone Theatre by Baker Street Station marks its debut in a converted Rudolf Steiner Hall which now contains a 200-seater auditorium and a sizeable stage that has depth enough to hold its debut production, a version of Friedrich Schiller’s unfinished play Dmitry completed by playwright Peter Oswald with Alexander J. Gifford that puts the comfort of its new seats to the test with a two and a half hour running time.

Like much of Schiller’s work, not least Mary Stuart, Dmitry is about the political and religious machinations of two warring nations trying to find common ground. The son of Ivan the Terrible, Dmitry was believed murdered as a 5-year-old child but appears with Polish backing as an adult to reclaim his rightful place as Czar of Russia. Will the usurped Czarina Maria recognise her son, and will his identity be enough to unite the country against its enemies?

Schiller actually completed very little of this play known as Demetrius set in 1604-5, so much of what the Marylebone Theatre has to offer is predominantly the work of Oswald and Gifford. And you can only admire the ambition of a story that not only pits Russian political factions against one another but also different communities and, crucially, religious beliefs. At the heart of Dmitry is the restoration of a rightful leader but one supported by a foreign power who seeks to return Russia back to Roman Catholicism and thereby rule through their inspirational leader.

Although there is a lot to get to grips with, the first half of director Tim Supple’s production is fairly pacey, creating tension and drive as political discussions become an assault on Moscow, supported by the emotional drama of a son reunited with his mother. And while the question of Dmitry’s identity isn’t hard to figure out, the play offers some potentially interesting debates about the creation of icons and the flexibility of truth, especially when the man we see becomes the compassionate and unifying leader Russia needs.

But having revealed its truth by the interval, the second part of the play loses its suspense, with the audience essentially waiting for the characters to catch-up and then decide what to do. So often with plots to gain power, what you do with it is far harder to dramatize and Dmitry becomes a sprawling story about factionalism and dissent that struggles to find its rhythm. Oswald and Gifford offer too much exposition with characters announcing conversations they need to have with someone else and then having them, delivering the same information twice that start to weigh down the energy.

Supple sets Dmitry in a contemporary space using modern costume to underscore the thematic resonance but that sometimes works against the classical style of the language that tries to replicate Schiller’s period-appropriate formality. There are some curious decisions including a slow-motion finale that doesn’t feel quite epic enough while Robert Innes Hopkins’ wood-panelled design would better suit a play that hinges on boardroom politics rather than war, religion and identity.

Tom Byrne does well with Dmitry, making him admirable and decent, an orator as well as a soldier that men would want to follow, and Byrne manages the transition from invader to troubled ruler nicely, although perhaps it would have been more dramatically interesting to have made Dmitry complicit from the start, exploring his conscience as well as his fervour. There are good supporting performances particularly from Poppy Miller as Maria whose motherly duty to Russia as well as son contend agreeably, and from James Garnon as the papal envoy Cardinal Odaolwalsky whose deep experience of strategizing for war is never explained but he has fanatical presence that is very compelling.

Dmitry is certainly an interesting extension of the little Schiller left behind in which Oswald and Gifford capture a grandness in language and subject. But this could be a much tighter and clearer piece about the willingness to believe in some kind of saviour even if absolute truth has to be jettisoned for the greater good.

Runs until 5 November 2022

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Captures the grandness

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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