Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Review The Last Ones

Set in Tsarist Russia, a frenzied tragifarce by a celebrated playwright disappoints Peter Barker in its British première.  

The Last Ones
by Maxim Gorky
Translated by Cathy Porter

Children Of The Revolution

Written while Russian playwright Maxim Gorky was in exile in 1908, The Last Ones now receives a very uneven first UK production at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Gorky himself characterised the events in the play, banned in Russia for its portrayal of the tsarist police,  as a "tragic sideshow"

In the Jermyn Street version, Gorky's grotesque melodrama unfortunately slides into an unconvincing family drama filled with a series of overwrought scenes. Seeming to walk in the shoes of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg in its painful dissection of family life, its near hysteria and bloated tally of characters work greatly against it.

This mixture of tragedy and farce is set in the turmoil following the 1905 Russian Revolution when corrupt police chief Ivan Kolomiitsev is sacked, then reinstated, in the wake of the revolution, the chaotic aftermath of which includes an attempt to assasinate him.

There is some good news about this production. As the dislodged police chief and overbearing and charmless father Kolomitsev, Daragh O’Malley is deliciously villainous and thuggish.

Sonya, his wife, played by Louise Gold, also holds it together, while all around her the disarray of what appears to be a clumsy script overwhelms the action.

Nevertheless, the supporting cast includes very able actors.

Tim Woodward is  nicely restrained as Komitsev's brother whose wealth payrolls everyone. Maroussia Frank gives a well-pitched performance as the calm family nurse, Fedosia. David Burt is the urbane Dr Lesch, channelling the suavity of a Claude Rains in Casablanca.

The play is definitely grounded in the events post the first Russian Revolution. Yet the radio snippets broadcast to the audience before the play starts and after the interval confusingly seem to mash up The Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

There is also a lumpen attempt to add contemporary relevance by dropping Donald Trump on top of the play with an extract from one of his speeches.

Kolomitsev’s tiresome five children -- all at various stages of young adulthood -- are played by actors who are bright as a button and word-perfect. However what maybe should be searing melodrama (Tennessee Williams comes to mind) and hyper-theatricality only comes across as over acting.

Again, there is a confusing mash up as they speak with English home counties' plum-in-the-mouth accents while the parents have completely different accents. There are also lavish helpings of ham as the family falls apart faster than the Conservative Party majority. It seems amazing that the Kolomiitsev family with all its fractures and flaws didn't fall apart years before.

Director Anthony Biggs, who has done some very fine work during his Jermyn Street tenure, in this case marshalls his troupe like a First World War general  - over the top. The overall impression left is of a tiny stage filled to the brim with a wailing, weeping, distraught cast of a dozen actors.

Maybe this play could work in another production but this appeared to be a solid cast of actors struggling with intractable material and it's a regretful red light.

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