Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Robbers, New Diorama

Review: The Robbers, New Diorama

Published in Time Out, 30.01.2014

Schiller started writing his first play when he was a schoolboy and, like Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, it’s a ripe piece of juvenilia, full of dead bodies and dastardly baddies. You’ve got two brothers – one exiled, one deformed – out for each other’s blood as they battle over inheritance, honour and their mutual childhood love.

You could call The Robbers a revenge tragedy, but it also sports a ragbag collection of borrowed subplots: King Lear’s Gloucester brothers, Robin Hood and Breaking Bad.

Yes: the Faction’s artistic director Mark Leipacher has spotted that Spiegelberg – a gangland lieutenant with ideas above his station – sounds a bit like Heisenberg and so picks up some pop-cultural cred points by putting one character in a Walter White-inspired T-shirt (theatrical rule of thumb: T-shirts always spell out a play’s themes).

Thing is, if you’re going to remind your audience that their Breaking Bad DVDs are waiting for them back home, you’ve got to be pretty damn confident of keeping them rapt. And for all their gung-ho intensity and pace, both adaptation and plain-clothes production are inexcusably bland.

Not bad, just bland. It’s a decent, straight-batted account of the play, but there’s little attempt to draw out real-world relevance. Instead it trades in unmanageable abstract ideas: loyalty, love and lawlessness; when men become monsters.

A black-box staging in generic, charcoal-grey costumes (tellingly, no designer is credited), it needs the actors to flesh characters out with individual quirks, but most – Cary Crankson and Christopher Hughes excepted – just play the situation and emote.

Blame budget constraints if you want, but the real problem is a poverty of imagination. Even killer dramatic revelations and tense stand-offs deflate because there’s no attempt to make them pop. Over two-and-a-half hours, that wears you down.

Photograph: Tristram Kenton

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