by Leonard Zorin translated by Franklin D Reeve.

Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 28 April 2012.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 March.

In Russia, with love.
Writing in 1967, when Soviet attacks on Stalin had made it safe, Leonard Zorin’s love story uses a 1947 law as a secular deus ex machina to decide his first (most sustained) act’s outcome.

But it’s misleading to suggest, as does this production’s publicity, the play is concerned with Stalinism. Russian Victor and Polish Helya, wine-maker and singer respectively, travel freely between their countries, there’s not a breath of the Warsaw uprising or Soviet oppression of Poland as the second half leaps forward a decade, twice over. And no sense of heavy-handed authority.

Oleg Mirochnokov’s production states but doesn’t explore the characters’ differences. Victor is stolid – increasingly, as he moves towards middle-age, with trimmed hair, battered briefcase and glasses – she’s impulsively enthusiastic, being female and having an artistic temperament.

There’s even a quiet interest in watching a young woman free of any constraints of equality describing all women as like monkeys (in wilfulness or acting on impulse rather than brain-power), while initiating and leading the relationship, especially in their first youth.

The difference in character is reflected in the performances. Oliver King’s Victor gives an entirely appropriate performance of someone with the archetypal soul of a business-man. The stolidity never yields to passion; it’s as if he’s learning her language. And what drew him to a Chopin recital isn’t clear. After a decade this Victor would have given a shrug rather than use a business trip to search an old flame out. It’s a performance, too, where all is on the surface.

Emily Tucker’s Helya gives the production the fire it has. In perfect-seeming Polish accent (Victor is properly grounded in English tones, making Russia the ‘home’ country), she is spirited in tracing the pathway of romantic courtship for her stolid lover. In youth, Helya’s brilliantly infused with lightness and life, slowing into graceful elegance in her later fame.

She does seem fixated on The Merry Widow waltz, and the few sheets of manuscript paper Victor holds hardly justify his statement that she has a whole repertoire. It’s a sign of the production’s tentative nature – Tucker’s Helya triumphantly excepted.

Helya: Emily Tucker.
Victor: Oliver King.

Director: Oleg Mirochnikov.
Designer: Agnes Treplin.
Lighting: Howard Hudson.
Sound: Michael Umney.
Musical arranger: John White.
Movement: Liana Nyquist.
Choreographer: Glen Snowden.

2012-04-02 12:16:17

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