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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
The Prince of Homburg
by Lizzie Loveridge

No battles are won upon the field of dreams  
-- Elector

 The Prince of Homburg
Dan Fredenburgh
(Photo: John Haynes)
>Rarely performed, better known as an opera than a play, The Prince of Homburg was written by German Romantic playwright, Heinrich von Kleist in 1811, just before he committed suicide aged thirty four. It is a beautiful but difficult play, full of dreamlike imagery and is translated and directed here by Neil Bartlett, artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith. The Prince of Homburg was originally staged at the Swan Theatre in Stratford as a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company repertoire.

The play opens with the Prussian prince (Dan Fredenburgh) sleepwalking in a garden. Narrating events is the prince's friend and companion, Count Heinrich von Hohenzollern (Will Keen) who explains that the prince is in the middle of a series of battles against the Swedes. In a dreamlike scene, the prince is weaving a garland from laurel when he is chanced upon by his commander in chief, the Elector (James Laurenson) and members of the court, including the Elector's niece, Princess Natalie (Tanya Moodie). The prince expresses his love for Natalie and the episode is interpreted by the Elector as a political threat. The next day the prince, finding Tanya's glove but not knowing why he has it, is inattentive when military orders are being given. Against orders, he leads a victorious charge against the Swedes. The result is that he is both hero and insubordinate. He is sentenced to be court martialled, the penalty is death, in a move that horrifies even the most seasoned of soldiers. Given the chance to decide whether he deserves to die, the Prince chooses death. Honour is satisfied and he is reprieved.

Neil Bartlett has memorably preserved the imagery in his translation with phrases like "the men went down like wheat in a rainstorm". The highly stylised production is mesmerizingly played out on a bare, black but steeply raked stage, swirling with smoke and brilliantly lit by Paule Constable.

James Laurenson's Elector is the stiff Prussian to the core. I liked too Will Keen's Hohenzollern Dan Fredenburgh as the more gentle prince than militarist Prussian. These actors are supported by sterling work from the cast of Prussian entourage.

We are told that The Prince of Homburg was Hitler's favourite play, presumably because it upheld the Prussian strength of character. I would think Hitler would like Bartlett's translation less as it is clear that the letter of the law is not the same as justice. Von Kleist plays with us so that we are never sure whether what we are watching is real or a dream. In the final scene, Hohenzollern points out that the Elector is to blame for the Prince's lack of attention at the briefing and so must bear some of the responsibility. The Elector counters that Hohenzollern, himself, led the Elector to the somnambulist prince and so he too is partially responsible. The message is that we are all responsible, in part.

The Prince of Homburg
Written by Heinrich von Kleist
Translation and adaptation by Neil Bartlett and David Bryer
Directed by Neil Bartlett

With: Peter Bygott, Andrew Fallaize, Lyn Farleigh, Matthew Flynn, Dan Fredenburgh, Derek Hutchinson, Will Keen, James Laurenson, Tanya moodie, Peter Moreton, Guy Oliver-Watts, Fred Pearson, Brian Poyser, Crispin Redman
Design: Rae Smith
Lighting Design: Paule Constable
Movement: Leah Hausman
Sound design: Nick Manning
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 8741 2311
Booking to 30th March 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th February 2002 performance at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, King Street, London W6
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