Boris Godunov: Alexander Pushkin, adapt Adrian Mitchell
RSC, Swan, Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 2h 5m, no interval, till 30 March 2013
Review: Alexander Ray, 28 11 12
Great fun if it’s your sort of thing – and it is mine.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste, that’s for certain, but Michael Boyd’s production is vigorous, thought-provoking and often funny. It appeals to the intellect rather than the emotions so may leave some cold. But for those who wish to engage with the debate there is much to offer.
A monk reluctantly (and Caesaresquely!) takes on the Russian crown, he’s persuaded to by the general populace – they believe he will be less Terrible than predecessors . . . if they have any ideas at all, that is. However we quickly learn this doesn’t please the aristos, they think they have more right to rule. And, anyway, it turns out that Boris G (the new ruler) murdered the child prince Dmitry to usurp the throne. But at least BG is better than the last Tsar – except he isn’t, he keeps murdering people, too. However, it turns out that Dmitry isn’t dead – or so the story goes – despite thousands seeing his body with throat very much cut, or so the story goes. But Poland and Lithuania support Prince Dmitry – who turns out to be a jumped up little monk – and, anyway the people, who don’t quite know what they’re doing (again), support him because he’s better than the last (now present) Tsar – or so the story goes. I expect you get the idea.
Pushkin’s story is about as cynical as I endeavour to make it sound. He satirises the ruling classes as drunken self-seeking con-men and the people as foolish as sheep (I don’t really wish to denigrate sheep) who end up no better off than they deserve.
With a deft, occasional use of modern costumes – mostly neat grey suits and ties – Boyd confidently pushes the satire into the 21st century while remaining firmly in 19th and 16th century Russia. A neat trick.
Godunov’s partner production is THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO, and it shares with ZHAO the same epic style and the same straightforward storytelling techniques. Brecht may turn summersaults of joy in his grave, for we must think as we watch; none of these characters is likeable, s there is no pleasure in being drawn into their world. The pleasure is in the debate and the wicked inventiveness of the satire.
Some delightful comedic acting supports this tale. Notably Joe Dixon’s frequently pissed Prince Vorotynskii, partnered by James Tucker’s schemingly disreputable Prince Shuiskii.
Lloyd Hutchinson makes a nice, Irish villain of BG, contrasting excellently with Gethin Anthony’s charming villanesque Dmitry. Comedic high spot is the long scene in the centre of the play when Dmitry attempts to woo the very modern Polish Lady, Maryna, who is a complete subversive delight in Lucy Briggs-Owen’s portrayal.
You have to wonder how Pushkin got away with it.
Gethin Antony – Grigory
Matthew Aubrey – Rozhnov
Adam Burton – Semyon
Joe Dixon – Afanasii Pushkin
Jake Fairbrother – Gavrila
Paul Hamilton – Karela/Schelkarlov
Lloyd Hutchinson – Boris Godunov
Youssef Kerkour – Kurbsky/ Guard
Chris Lew Kum Hoi – Boy/Citizen/Soldier
Siu Hun Li – Kruschev
Patrick Romer – Father Pimen
James Tucker – Shuisky
Graham Turner – General Basmanov
Martin Turner – Patriarch Job/Mniszech
Stephen Ventura – Misail/Margaret
Phillip Whitchurch – Varlaam/Rosen
Lucy Briggs Owen – Maryna
Nia Gwynne – Nurse
Susan Momoko Hingley – Rozia
Joan Iyiola -Ksenia
Sadie Shimmin – Hostess
Director – Michael Boyd
Designer – Tom Piper
Lighting – Vince Herbert
Music – John Woolf
Sound – Jeremy Dunn
Movement – Liz Ranken
Fights – Terry King