Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 25 - 28 September 2013
Based on the play by Frederick Schiller
Schiller's 200 year-old play about the Swiss folk hero, William Tell, is not an obvious choice for 2013. But lines like, "Are we so weak that we'll accept a tyrant?"; "War is more ruthless than any tyrant," and "People will fight with God on their side," are all resoundingly contemporary. Legends that announce the hope of ordinary people rising up and overthrowing tyranny will always ring a bell. We can easily see why Hitler banned the staging of this play during the Third Reich.
The story contains a dangerously subversive idea. It is singularly hard to re-tell (excuse the pun). For a start, the main scene is etched into the memory of practically everyone. We all know how it ends, so the main impetus of theatre (surprise) is thwarted. Abingdon Drama Club decided to make the play an illustrated narrative with spectacular effects and skilfully innovative physical theatre to bring the play to life. It opens in the William Tell Museum in the Present Day. The museum-goers act out the tale with minimal props and costume. Throughout the play, the simultaneous musical soundtrack and evocative visuals take us very effectively to the Swiss locations.
The script is largely unsubtle; there are 'goodies' and 'baddies'. We are in the country of saga - epic folk tale. That is easy for audiences, but causes many problems for actors. Not all the cast had the experience to carry the illusion through seamlessly.
Exceptions were engagingly credible performances from Liz Adams as Mrs Tell, and Terry Atkinson as William. The former, frustrated by having a heroic partner who puts his deepest ethical principles before practical things like being a husband and father, wins our empathy from the start, though we love the hero, too. Atkinson's role held the whole play together with believable consistency. His main scene with the villain, Gessler - played by Lawley Barnett, was inspirationally divided by the interval. Suffice it to say - without giving anything away - the spectacular staging of the play's climax was well worth the wait!
The ensemble pieces demanded a level of discipline that the company didn't quite achieve on the first night, though the innovatory theatrical illusions are wholly absorbing. The technically complex staging - complete with pyrotechnics and amazing visual illusions, at times slowed the pace, though they were much appreciated by the audience. The story is told well and 'works' - Tell's bolt hits the target! A good night out.
Gwilym Scourfield - 25/9/2013