Sunday, December 3

The Scandal at Mayerling – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Considering the months of uncertainty, the arts have faced after the past two years, Scottish Ballet’s Scandal at Mayerling is not just a feat of performance, but a tremendous achievement. Delivering such an astonishing piece of performance art is no small undertaking, and in doing so, the company demonstrate their strength as world leading company.

The scandal of the ballet’s title rocked Europe. In a small shooting lodge on the outskirts of the Viennese woods, the politics of Europe changed forever- it’s the rarely spoken catalyst of World War I. A Crown Prince with divergent political views could have changed the course of history if he had inherited the crown, but here he is, as the ballet ends, reliant on morphine, obsessed with his mistresses and lying dead with his lover. This is no frilly piece of escapism. 

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s original 1978 production to a score compiled of Liszt was known for being simultaneously a feat of choreography and a meandering self-indulgent descent layered in politics, intrigue and passion. But thankfully, Scottish Ballet have created a much welcome ‘refined’ version that strips the plot right back to its core ingredients. It’s a slim line… Scandal… that makes for gripping viewing and artistic Christopher Hampson has done a tremendous job.

As the epilogue transitions to the opening ball scene, one would be mistaken that they’re caught in a saccharine crinoline dream. Here, the dancers battle with layers of appropriately stifling petticoats superbly designed by Elin Steele. Suddenly Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s creative vision begins to shine. Compiling the cinematic prowess of multi camera scenes, we’re taken through the Imperial Court’s complicated hierarchies of politics and concealed affairs. Thus begins Evan Loudon’s truly remarkable performance as Rudolf. A role of this magnitude seemingly exists outside the normal expectations of human stamina, and Loudon is an absolute joy to watch as he takes us through three scenes of demanding dancing. By act two, Louden isn’t just portraying a man with deteriorating syphilis and drug addiction, the choreography incorporates its debilitating qualities, which Louden relishes in. This dramatic physicality that revels in its purposely unpolished body movements is a fantastic piece of direction that Louden executes perfectly.

Photo: Andy Ross

After the ball scene we encounter a true highlight of this production, Rudolfs confrontation with his mother, Empress Elizabeth, Marge Hendrick, on his wedding night. Hendrick and Louden step up to MacMillan and Hampson’s effective choreography, speaking the languages of yearning and distance through their bodies. This rich and detailed choreography conveys the tension better than dialogue.

MacMillan’s cinematic vision reigns supreme throughout the rest of the ballet, especially in the tavern colourful and animated characters keep the traffic of the stage populated in energetic dramatic movement. However, despite the frivolity of these scenes, especially in Bruno Miccchiardi’s delightful performances as Bratfisch, there are some very dark themes. Scottish Ballet’s content warnings should be taken note, and some aspects are not easy viewing, no matter how they’re implied through the medium of dance. The company’s dedication to transparency surrounding these themes however, is a fantastic example of how companies can work with audiences to alert them of sensitive content within their production.

Alas, this ballet is not truly rid of all of its self-indulgence. Come the Scene 5 Act Two, knowing what lies in wait for lovers, Rudolf’s death is overly drawn out given the pace of the rest of the production. Perhaps in its entirety this may have been appropriate, but the pace loses its momentum far too quickly. It’s the only criticism of this entire production.

From Star Struck to The Nutcracker and now …Mayerling, Scottish Ballet are flourishing and not just in spite of two wilderness years. It’s also thrilling to have a full live orchestra under the baton of Jean-Claude Picard. Long may all of this continue.

This production runs until Saturday 28th May,

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 25th May 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★