Danton's Death by Georg Buchner, adapted by Simon Scardifield

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 9 December 2012
Jessica Dromgoole's production offered a powerful meditation on leadership and its consequences.  Danton (Joseph Milson), having been at the thick of the Revolution, is losing his grip on power; and is tormented with the thought of having been responsible for the death of 1,400 aristocrats in a single night.  However in the brave new world of French politics, such qualms are a sign of weakess: Danton's rival Robespierre (Khald Abdalla) has now assumed authority, and is more than willing to see Danton moved out of the way as soon as possible.
In this production we saw two Dantons:: the public figure trying to maintain a facade of authority; and the private figure confiding his weakness both to listeners and to his wife.  Such conflicts are perhaps natural - it's the same for any politician - but they were the source of Danton's decline and fall.  Through an intelligent use of choric scenes showing Robespierre manipulating the Paris mob, director Dromgoole suggested that no one in revolutionary France was really interested in anything except a show of strength.  This was a dog-eat-dog world, in which only the fittest survived.  Danton was arrested and thrown into jail on some trumped-up charges; it didn't matter whether they were true ot not, as Robespierre simply chose jury-members who agrred with everything he said.
As the production unfolded, so Danton understood the forces of evil he had unwittingly released as a result of the Revolution.  Rather than promoting freedom from the aristocratic yoke, he had helped to create a brutal world in which no one could he spared from the guillotine.  Heroes soon became villains; it didn't really matter whether there was any distinction between the two.
This powerful indictment of an autocratic state was contrasted with the strains of La Marseillase, which was frequently heard trilling away in the background.  Ostensibly a call for unity on behalf of the new French state, no longer had any particular meaning - except, perhaps, as a patriotic palliative, designed to divert public opinion away from the injustices surrounding Danton's death.
The play ended with the gruesome sound of Danton and his acolytes being executed, the sound of blood spurting from the severed heads and trickling down the wooden scaffold.  A young woman passed by and asked the person responsible for clearing up the mess whether the blood wasn't difficult to remove.  She received no satisfactory answer, which prompted her to comment, quite aptly, that the Revolution had actually made no difference.
Buchner's powerful play was presented in a supple, colloquial adaptation by Simon Scardifield.  In a world where several revolutions, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, seem to have had equally bloody consequences, Danton's Death seemed as pertinent today as when it was first staged in the mid-nineteenth century.