Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Review: Children of the sun

Lyttelton, National Theatre, London SE1

    From Russia with little love: Jonathan Harden and Matthew Flynn
    From Russia with little love: Jonathan Harden and Matthew Flynn

    Unlike his contemporary Chekhov, it’s not only Russia’s pre-revolutionary privileged class who populate Maxim Gorky’s plays but a hostile and starving proletariat. This work, which the political dramatist and activist wrote from his St Petersburg prison during Russia’s aborted 1905 revolution, gives a sense of them circling the home of scientist Protasov.

    In this new version by Andrew Upton, Protasov’s sister Liza describes their home as an oasis in a black, hostile forest, although in Howard Davies’s wonderful production it’s more of a high-walled fortress.

    Oblivious to the condition of his fellow man, Protasov conducts chemistry experiments to advance mankind.

    Meanwhile, his neglected wife Yelena flirts with the artist Vageen, the lonely Melaniya dotes on Protasov, her melancholy brother, the vet Boris, expresses undying love for Liza. She is the only one who can see the coming storm — until, that is, the peasants are no longer a menacing, largely unseen presence and breach the walls.

    Davies’s gripping production rather brilliantly emphasises that barrier between the privilege within and the poverty without by giving his audience a peasant’s perspective of Protasov’s home – a high dirty wall. In a moment of exquisitely staged transition, the whole edifice sinks into the Lyttelton’s stage, giving the impression that we, the audience, are rising above it until it is possible to see over the parapet and into Bunny Christie’s design of the cavernous, chic-shabby interior.

    Upton’s open, unfussy translation has a lightness of touch that serves well the ideas and arguments about art and science with which Protasov and his circle are obsessed. But there are moments when Upton’s obsession with accessibility gets the better of his script. Exchanges such ‘What’s your problem?” followed by “How long have you got?” and lines such as “In yer dreams” feel not only colloquial (which is fine) but like an oddly British strain of sarcasm (which is not).

    But this is a small gripe in a superbly performed production that is destined to be one of the finest of the year. The charge of politics would count for little if the relationships here were not so beautifully observed.

    Justine Mitchell, as Protasov’s ignored wife, moves from a distracted self-indulgence with her artist fancy man (Gerald Kyd) in tow, to a steely observer of her sexless marriage. Geoffrey Streatfeild, as her brilliant husband, transmits a kind of emotional autism in response to her needs that makes you want to slap him.

    And there is terrific work, too, from Paul Higgins as Boris and Lucy Black as Melaniya, who are each in love with their hosts — Boris with Liza, Melaniya with Protasov. Meanwhile, the town is racked with cholera and the revolution cannot be far away. The effect is something akin to a party on the sinking Titanic.

The Jewish Chronicle

Fast-talking musical maker, Maury Yeston

John Nathan

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fast-talking musical maker, Maury Yeston
The Jewish Chronicle

Reviews: King Lear

John Nathan

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Reviews: King Lear
The Jewish Chronicle

Review: Dead Funny

John Nathan

Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: Dead Funny
The Jewish Chronicle

Review: After October

John Nathan

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: After October
Uk News

Phillipe Sands wins £30,000 Baillie Gifford prize

Anonymous

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Phillipe Sands wins £30,000 Baillie Gifford prize
Theatre

The comics' Talmudist

Elisa Bray

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The comics' Talmudist
The Jewish Chronicle

School of Rock

John Nathan

Friday, November 25, 2016

School of Rock
Theatre

Review: The Last Five Years

John Nathan

Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: The Last Five Years
Theatre

Review: The Dresser

John Nathan

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: The Dresser