Bliss by Fraser Grace. The Finborough theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 to 11 June 2022. 3***. William Russell.

Unrelentingly grim Fraser Garce’s play based on Andrey Platonov’s short story The River Potudan could not be more topical and, although over long, is well acted by the five strong cast. It is Russia 1921. The coutry has been ravaged by civil war and Nikita (Jesse Rutherford), a young man returned from the war, is trying to settle down with Lyuba (Bess Roche),a young woman he had known before he went to fight. But fraught with stress nothing goes smoothly. Meanwhile his lecherous carpenter father interferes, a mysterious tramp wanders round town and the local party official arrives to charge Nikita with breaking the rules of the state. The trouble is that Grace really has made something of a two hour plus meal out of the story and things are not helped by the staging. It is interesting enough but clumsy. Designer Paul Bourne, who also directs, has taken a lot of wooden pallets and boxes to create a devastated world and then used them to slowly rebuild it – impressive enough at the start the endless shifting around by the cast gets annoying and rapidly stops paying any dividends. It slows things down disastrously. But there are the performances with Rutherford impressive as the catatonic Nikita, glacial, detached and battered, Caroline Rippin doing an amazingly different double as Lyuba’s sick friend and then a market fishwife of a shrew surviving on her wits in the aftermath of war, and Jeremy Killick terrifying as the never explained tramp. But naming names is by the by. All the performances are worth watching. If only it had all moved rather more rapidly it would have secured that fourth star, but even at three it is well worth watching, just prepare for the long haul.

Nikita Firsov: Jesse Rutherford.
Lyuba: Bess Roche.
Tramp: Jereny Killick.
Zhenya: Caroline Rippin.
Mikhail: Patrick Morris.
Vlass: Patrick Morris.
Paulina: Caroline Rippin.
Investigator: Jeremy Killick,

Director & Designer: Paul Bourne.
Composer & Sound Designer: Michael Polakova.
Lighting Designer: Ash Day.
Production Phgotograph: Jack Sain.

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