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A CurtainUp London Review
Luise Miller is the beautiful daughter of a musician who falls in love with Ferdinand (Max Bennett) the son of the Chancellor, and he with her. But the Chancellor (Ben Daniels) plans to use his son to marry the Prince's mistress Lady Milford (Alex Kingston) to cement his political power base. The Chancellor's secretary, Wurm (John Light) has designs on Luise and will aid in undoing Ferdinand and Luise's love affair. With politics and machinations to the fore, the two young lovers are helpless innocents.
Mike Poulton's translation has made the most of some subtle and very funny, saucy sexual metaphor with the Chancellor referring to "your crust already being buttered" or saying "No doubt my son hopes to thrust his thumb in your dish". When delivered by Ben Daniels, whom I don't recall seeing playing a villain onstage before, although he did play Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses in New York, the innuendo is sheer delight. There is great melodrama as the villains twist and about turn in tricky and malicious deceit.
There are good contrasts in the performances. Felicity Jones' political pawn, sixteen year old Luise, is all unaffected sincerity when she asks, "Where is the harm in loving Ferdinand?". Contrast too, Max Bennett as her young and handsome lover against the scheming Lady Milford played by Alex Kingston "a vixen royally outfoxing all the royal foxes". Her past explains her survival skills at court level but she also spins her influence as being a force for benevolence. Paul Higgins is Luise's passionate musician father and Finty Williams his calming and homely wife. David Dawson is the bi-sexual, gadfly courtier Hofmarshall von Kalb, whose sexual intrigue adds to a heady mix and whose tale of his shit sullied white breeches makes us laugh. When a duel is called for, von Kalb's solution is to invite Ferdinand into a homosexual liaison rather than pistols for two.
However it is Ben Daniels' performance which we will want to see as the supremely confident, intelligent yet unscrupulous Chancellor. He explains that his motive in his ruthless rise to power that sent his innocent predecessor to the scaffold was purely for the betterment of his son, thus attempting to pass the blame onto his child. This is an acting masterclass in controlled villainy. The clever writing allows us to laugh at the wit without detracting from the evil traits of character.
I was so transfixed by the performances that I can't remember much about the simple but spacious grey slate set except for the dramatic shafts of light from windows high above in the prison scene. The costumes are beautiful in 18th century dress.
You may have to queue for a chance to see this production but I promise you it will be worthwhile. See below for more information on day seats and standing room sold on the day.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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