A RUSSIAN IN THE WOODS
by Peter Whelan.
The Other Place Stratford-upon-Avon. In rep to 10 October 2001.
Runs 2 hr 50 min One interval.
TICKETS 01789 403403.
Review Timothy Ramsden 3 August.
Hot passions in Cold War Germany eventually ignite into explosive drama.
When the RSC’s smallest theatre stops presenting plays in October, it’s to be hoped they find some other place for new writing as urgent as this season’s three works, diverse in style and approach but examining political issues in ways that are thrillingly entertaining.
The thrilling label certainly applies to the second half of RSC veteran Whelan’s play, told as a distanced memory about a naÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯ve young army education sergeant in divided 1950 Germany. Pat Harford (Anthony Flanagan) is sent to teach soldiers but learns about reality from everyone around.It’s a complex world where Churchill’s 1940 is history and the certainties of World War II are replaced by shifting complexities. A world fast turning into a Le Carre novel, where the most senior officer Geoff Wirral (sympathetically played by Charlie Simpson as a short-fused, sexually frustrated man of conventional mind) is wholly outclassed by the array of sergeants around him.
Harford encounters these one by one up to the interval, in a rather strung out act where the least integrated character, David Hinton’s German nightwatchman, has a powerful speech imagining Europe’s great artists as casualties of war.
Pat doesn’t meet a Russian in the Woods; not onstage anyway. He tells the attractive German secretary Ilse (Anna Madeley) about this encounter, a symbol of inability to communicate. But nor can he understand Ilse’s urge to travel deep into Russian territory to find her home village. Along with the others, he likes having her around.
But this is no world to luxuriate in feelings. Pat’s soon involved in a trial of conscience that rips up his English idealism. In two of the finest performances in Robert Delamere’s well-orchestrated production, the apparently flippant Fraser Cullen (Louis Hilyer) and the forcefully bluff Clive Burns (Colin Mace) save him from his innocence and change his life.
Pat Harford: Anthony Flanagan.
Clive Burns: Colin Mace.
Reg Dilke: Stuart Goodwin.
Geoff Wirral: Charlie Simpson.
Ilse Bucher: Anna Madeley.
Fraser Cullen: Louis Hilyer.
Dieter Stahl: David Hinton.
Lloyd Jackson: Douglas Rao.
Director: Robert Delamere.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Rick Fisher.
Music: Harry Peat.
Movement: Terry John Bates.
Sound: Harry Peat/Charles Horne.