In the dim candlelight of his solitary room, young Peter Schlemiel dreams of a life of riches and refinement. He gazes up at the sealed circles of the super-rich, far beyond his grasp until a mysterious man in grey makes him a deal. In one fatal transaction, Schlemiel acquires the legendary purse of Fortunatus in exchange for – his shadow. His revelry in his new-found wealth is short-lived as he watches with dread to see the consequences of this bargain unfold. He soon learns that a shadow-less man is marked by disgrace and it isn’t long before daylight exposes Schlemiel to the scorn and judgement of all. Rejected by his lover and ostracized by his fellow-man, he must now retrieve his shadow to regain his chance of happiness. He again encounters the devilish vendor who offers Schlemiel one final bargain: the return of his shadow in exchange for his soul–an impossible price. Schlemiel renounces his fortune and in true Romantic fashion, abandons the world of man to seek redemption in Nature and respite in the life of ‘a man of no importance’.
Conceived out of Faustian legend and deeply moral, Chamisso’s Peter Schlemiel is the universal tale of blind ambition and bitter disenchantment, masterfully directed and adapted for the stage by Matthew Bosley. In this highly affecting adaptation, lighting, set, costume (by Keely Hawkins), sound, dialogue and choreography are beautifully coordinated to create a sophisticated piece which continues to resonate long after you’ve left the theatre.
Schlemiel’s world is brought to life by a cast of four actors from Mountview Academy, with Alex Marlow (Schlemiel) delivering an unfaltering and sensitive portrayal of the eponymous character. Georgina Terry (Mina), Billy Irving (The Devil) and Philippa Rose (Bendel) also give strong and dynamic performances, each with the added challenge of playing several different roles, from hilariously supercilious millionaires to fathers, friends, servants and strangers to construct Schlemiel’s social surroundings.
Peter Schlemiel’s innovative set design by Robert Hill is highly appropriate, despite spatial limitations, for a play which is symbolically charged from start to finish. The doorway stands ominously at the back of the stage, the constant marker of human transition in the play; naivety to wisdom, health to sickness, popularity to rejection and obscurity to opulence. The sound design is also complementary and voice-over is well-timed and works naturally to reduce the self-consciousness of the piece which thus retains a sort of ‘literary’ feel.
Edvardas Bazys achieves the seemingly impossible feat of keeping Schlemiel both shadow-less and well-lit whilst creating that tenebrous atmosphere throughout, an essential component in a work in which ones ‘lovely, lovely shadow’, the glaring representation of moral repute, is almost character in its own right.
A beautifully crafted piece of theatre that glitters with promise and indeed delivers.