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A CurtainUp London Review
In a Russian house in 1848 on an estate 13 years before the emancipation of the serfs, an impoverished gentleman fallen on hard times, Vassily Semyonitch Kuzovkin (Iain Glen) is tolerated as a house guest but his sleeping quarters appear to be the top shelf of a linen cupboard. The mistress of the estate Olga Petrovna (Lucy Briggs-Owen), the daughter of Vassily's friend, is returning from her marriage to a government official Pavel Nikolaitch Yeletsky (Alexander ).
We are given an insight into the life of the servants as they prepare for their mistress's return. Led by the bumptious steward, Trembinsky (Danierl Cerqueira) who barks orders and flicks Pyotr (Dyfan Dwyfor) the footman's braces. Enter neighbouring gentleman, Richard McCabe as the deeply unpleasant Flegont Alexandrovitch Tropatchov with silly curling hair and a green velvet jacket, and his sidekick, the bankrupt Karpatchov (Richard Henders).
In what ends up as a drinking contest, Tropatchov goads Vassily into drinking too much and revealing the horribly torturous court case which has tied up Vassily's inheritance for many years. As Vassily explains it, we are spellbound by his monologue but unfollowing of the legal complexities. After we have patiently tried to mentally unravel the meandering, long winded explanations and lost the plot, Vassily utters the best line of the play, "After this things get rather complicated!"
Mike Poulton's translation has brilliant clarity and Lucy Bailey allows the torpor of the society hanging by a thread to infuse her production of this masterpiece. The end of Act One sees a terrible revelation from Vassily which I shall not reveal here but just say how very shocking it is. Act Two sees Olga's new husband inspecting the accounts and making decisions on the future of the estate without consulting his wife who has inherited the house and land. William Dudley's beautiful designs show the spacious house of members of a once wealthy landowning class beautifully and evocatively lit by Bruno Poet.
The performances are superb whether agonising as Vassily from Glen or pompous and annoying from McCabe. I urge all who love Russian drama to see this wonderful production of Poulton's expert adaptation. There is no better drama on the London stage at present.
For the review from Broadway in 2002 which starred the late Alan Bates, go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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