Brand new Marylebone Theatre opens its door with a risky choice: an interpretation of a relatively less-known Schiller’s last, unfinished play. Not only that – it’s a play focused strongly on Russia, which by default makes this choice somewhat controversial in 2022. With a couple of outstanding performances and incredible light design, this is a solid start for Marylebone Theatre, which makes me keen to revisit the venue soon, to check what their next choices this season shall be.
Marylebone Theatre uses the tagline “London’s newest theatre” and it does feel like it from the moment you cross its doors. The interior looks strikingly refurbished – it even smells like a newly renovated space! I have to say, the staff during the opening night was one of the nicest, most welcoming front-of-house teams I’ve encountered in London. The only issue I found was that the bar/cafe is tiny and the queue during the interval gets ridiculously long.
But let’s talk about Dmitry (or Dymitr, as we call him in Poland – he was a historical figure that I studied at school back home, and this show is a loose interpretation of his life’s mission). It’s AD 1605. A defiant Orthodox Russia stands alone against the Roman Catholic and Protestant West. In response to nationalist sentiment and the support of the church, the Kremlin has suppressed all opposition and remains ruthless in its grip on power. A formidable new opponent emerges in Poland: Dmitry (Tom Byrne). Moscow is attacked by the Polish army fed by fear of the Russian threat. But is Dmitry really who he says he is (hint: there’s a big twist involved)?
It’s a production that is based on being balanced on multiple, opposite factors. The vision of Polish liberum-veto times (ridiculous type of democracy where 1 veto against 99% votes, would disqualify the notion and lead to no decision) and Russia’s terrifying tzar’s court, where democracy just didn’t exist. There’s also a piece of completely modern music (aggressive Russian punk) playing in the background as the scenes change, mixed with quiet meditation-like scenes in a church.
Costumes are an exciting mix of modern and classic, with Dmitry’s first outfit resembling the one usually seen worn by president Zelenskyy during the current war with Russia. On the other hand, the show sticks to the tradition with the outfits of Tzar and Tzarina during the coronation – the golden, fur-embroidered capes and heavy crowns beautifully shine in the stage lights.
The script in “Dmitry” tends to mimic the melodic, almost poetry-like Schiller’s verses, and the leads of the show excel at the clear pronunciation of even the longest and sometimes extremely emotional lines. Being Polish, I found the actors’ attempts to pronounce Polish surnames, quite amusing. They did butcher the pronunciation a little, but they did try their best. I have to admit, it’s rare to hear familiar names in the scripts of plays in London, so I enjoyed every little bit of those 🙂
The theatre’s “freshness” was visible in the quality of lights and sound. Lighting design was astounding, with different scenes showcasing multiple locations without much change of the stage set – most of the work was in fact done with the lights. The sound was clear and surrounded delicately most of the dialogue scenes, without interrupting lines delivery. Quiet but easily traceable sounds like heartbeats or wind added an almost cinematic experience to the show.
My standout performance of the night may be a bit of a surprise because it’s not from one of the leads. Piotr Baumann, portraying Korela, the exiled Hetman of the Don Cossacks, left such a lasting impression. With the wildness in his eyes and strong movements, he resembled a mix of a gangster, a Harley Davidson rider, and some kind of wild tribe member. He portrayed the undependable, slightly deranged character flawlessly.
Tom Byrne (Dmitry) did a great job portraying a character that initially is full of energy and driven by his willpower, but then suddenly loses all his allies . All this while understanding more and more that his time is running out.
Daniel York Loh (the Russian Tzar) acted the role in a way that was almost too over the top. Yes, he did inject the Russian spirit into his character, but he also was unbearably loud – and the manner of screaming on the stage for most of the time was just too much for me to bear.
“Russia will change the world but the world will never change Russia” – it’s a terrifying line to end the play with. Because of its underlying heaviness, I was hoping for some kind of statement at the end, maybe a display of a Ukrainian flag during the bows, to show the production team’s support for the group of people which right now, as I write these words, is on the opposite side of Russia’s guns – just like Dmitry used to be. The majority of theatres I visited this year did display their stand on one of the sides of the Ukrainian-Russian war, but here – unfortunately, I was left with no such thing.
“Dimitry” delivers an emotional, heavy thriller story – one that fans of “Game of Thrones” would enjoy. There’s a boy with a dream, his mother, hiding in a monastery, and a delicate web of a political power play that happens in almost every scene. It’s one of those plays that will get you to research the real story on Wikipedia on your way home! If only the play’s end was a little punchier and connected with 2022…
29 Sept – 5 Nov 2022
Robert Innes Hopkins