It is perhaps only natural that a brand-new venue should want to open with an ambitious production, and the Marylebone Theatre has gone for it with a capital A. Opting for Peter Oswald’s epic Dmitry, a rewriting of Friedrich von Schiller’s unfinished Demetrius, directed by Tim Supple.
This isn’t so much a historical play, the characters wear mostly modern clothing, Dmitry himself looking strikingly like Volodymyr Zelenskyy in military fatigues in the opening scene. But it does use history to tell a story that could be set in any time period.
The youngest son of Ivan the Terrible was supposedly murdered as a child, with his elder brother already missing, Dmitry’s murderer is the usurper to the Crown. But fifteen years have passed and now a young man claims to be Dmitry, having been saved years earlier and sent to live in a monastery.
It’s kind of an Anastasia Romanov story, with the audience left wondering for much of the first act whether Dmitry is in fact the rightful Tsar of Russia. There are many players in the game; The Pope wants Dmitry installed to bring Catholicism to the country, the Polish want to rule over Russia, the Cossacks want power, and the Tsarina wants revenge. Dmitry, it seems, wants only to be a fair and compassionate leader, but with so much conspiracy going on behind the scenes, can he ever really succeed?
Oswald’s script is written with plenty of lyricism and poetry, it’s almost Shakespearean at points, and yet very easy on the ear. It becomes quite compelling at points; the monumental power struggles rivalling the conflict on the battlefields. Such an elaborate story line does come with a hefty running time, but in general it flies by as the story twists and turns in unexpected directions.
Dmitry is not without its faults however, some of the lines delivered with the deepest of gravitas get a huge laugh from the audience, and it’s not altogether clear if they were supposed to. The moments where the characters break the fourth wall are also a touch odd, and the final scenes come across a little too self-indulgent.
But there is much to enjoy, it’s a large cast for a small stage, and its led wonderfully by Tom Byrne in the title role, giving a mesmerising performance. Byrne delivers a number of stirring soliloquies and gives the character a sense of humanity. Clifford Samuel is also enjoyable to watch as Petushok and Phoebe Strickland elicits some (intentional) laughs as the Latin speaking Governess from Edinburgh.
The wooden panels that make up everything from the Polish Parliament to the Tsar’s throne room, feel like an extension of the panelling in the auditorium, making it feel more immersive than you would imagine. While Max Pappenheim’s pulsating sound design creates the sense of just how much is at stake.
It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into this production; the costumes in particular are beautifully made, and the Tsar and Tsarina’s crowns look so real that come the Coronation you find yourself completely caught up in the pomp and pageantry.
Dmitry was indeed a bold choice for this new theatre, but in the main it is one that has paid off. This is a powerfully relevant story that has been spectacularly told.
Dmitry is at Marylebone Theatre until 5th November 2022.