It’s been quite a while since a play has held me as captivated and enraptured from start to finish as Faction Theatre’s The Robbers did. Updated from Schiller’s classic German text to a modern setting, every element of it has been undoubtedly stamped with their trademark dark and grungy aesthetic.
There are many spine-tingling moments that send chills up the audience’s backs, either for the callous and unabashed content of the scene, or for their raw and affecting emotion. Act One in particular builds to a tense and touching climax with Alexander Guiney and Kate Sawyer breathing pain, desperation and longing into every line of the two long-lost lovers, Max Von Moor and Amalia.
Alongside these two, the rest of the ensemble are so tightly gelled together that they rebound off of one another’s energy almost instinctively. Cary Crankson in particular commands attention as the self-absorbed orator, Spiegelberg, who attempts to overthrow the ‘Captain’ of the gang, Max. He spits out every line with the same conviction as his persuasive character. Elsewhere, Andrew Chevalier brings a sickening malice to Franza Von Moor, whose disregard and contempt for his own father and his estranged brother is loathsome. Amongst the cruelty and cynicism, however, are welcome moments of comedy, with Jeryl Burgess delivering many of these as Daniella.
There is possibly the hint of some well-meaning logic in the gang’s crimes, suggesting that underneath the surface they are not as corrupt and malevolent as their heinous actions propose. Guiney is outstanding at balancing the deep-seated injustice that Max feels with his caring self – underneath he is just a hurt boy deeply seeking approval and love. Schiller doesn’t allow anyone to escape that easily though, as he hones in on the addictive and compelling nature of a gang.
The Robbers is startling both because of its many, highly-unexpected plot twists and because of its sharp and seamless direction by Mark Leipacher. The minimalist stage is framed beautifully, with Leipacher making full use of every inch, with varying levels of height, width and depth. Lighting – designed by Matt Graham and Chris Withers – is subtle yet key to creating swift and unanticipated changes in tone.
A series of chalk marks provide a stark and constant reminder of the perpetual gang culture. They are as foreboding as the weight on Max’s shoulders, and their constant presence exacerbates the tension as this stellar cast sends the play hurtling along from one dramatic scene to the next.
This is a remarkably understated production, but one that is sure to leave an impression – go and see it!
The Robbers is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 22 February. For more information and tickets, see the New Diorama Theatre website.