mon 17/02/2020

The Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse | reviews, news & interviews

The Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse

The Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse

Revival of German morality play about duty fails to engage

'The Prince of Homburg': Charlie Cox moves from dreamily boyish lover to heroic leader of menJohan Persson

This, Heinrich von Kleist’s last play, was completed not long before he committed suicide, aged 34, in 1811, when the map of Europe - and indeed that of his native Prussia - was changing with indecent frequency. It is loosely (very loosely) based on the real Prince of Homburg and events at the Battle of Fehrbellin in 1675, and with its leitmotif of honour, duty and loyalty to the Fatherland, it is no wonder that the play was appropriated (with suitable adjustments) by the National Socialists in the 1930s (it was a favourite of Hitler's apparently) and then fell out of favour in German theatre in the postwar period.

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I'm suprised that this review fails to mention the fact that Dennis Kelly has completely rewritten the final scene of the play. Kleist's original ending in which the Prince meets a fate far worse than execution is infinitely more interesting and disturbing than this rather predictable conclusion. Turning the Elector into a clichéd villain and a proto-Fascist dictator undermines his subtle and much more ambiguous characterisation in the earlier scenes. I don't understand why anyone would decide to dumb down this scene and make it less exciting and less modern than the original. The reference to an 'intellectual joust between von Kleist's Romantic hero of the Enlightenment and a moribund figure of the old order' doesn't make much sense. The Prince may be a Romantic hero but in many ways he is the one who represents the old order, whereas the Elector is characterised as a a modern, enlightened monarch. It's only the Donmar's revised ending that turns him into a boring caricature of a proto-fascist dictator.

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