by Moses Raine.
Old Red Lion Theatre 418 St John Street EC1V 4NJ To 31 May 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm Sun 2pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7837 7816.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 May.
A great patriotic family war play.
Here’s a play-and-a-half, a bounteous Fringe profusion, a script and production from brother and sister who confidently handle multiple relationships within and around a modern Moscow family, its three generations crowded in a small apartment. And a cast of such quality and experience as should have a West End Manager falling to their knees in gratitude. Catch it at the enterprising Old Red Lion, one minute from Angel tube and served by many buses. However you get there, go.
It’s funny – hilarious at times – full of lively characters and magnificently structured, each story element returning just when needed. And emotionally powerful, thanks to a beautifully-controlled structure which doesn’t force politics or history, but lets the inheritance of wartime starvation and the betrayals encouraged by a police state gradually colour family relationships.
They’re accommodating three outsiders, Petya’s girlfriend Clara, father Ivan’s PA Natalia and Sasha’s English friend Thomas. Each plays their part in the family’s affairs, while standing outside. With the self-contained Natalia and non-Russian speaking Thomas, it’s through saying little (the cast are super-fluent in briefly adopting Russian accents when speaking to Tom). With Clara come shifts between put-on quiet humility and fiery obscenity when that doesn’t work with the sullen, argumentative Petya, mentally still an adolescent. They’re perfectly suited, in a relationship hilariously encapsulated by loud offstage insult-trading.
The unsettled Petya’s moods are fired by family unease, fear of conscription and possibly his father’s fearsome outbursts. The parental generation are less developed, though Wendy Nottingham’s Zhenya, a persuasive performance of anxiety-tinged existence, has clearly learned to survive by not asking questions.
Sasha’s emotional uncertainty, sensitively shaded by Lisa Diveney, seems born from the same pattern, while the extremes of age are finely played by Patrick Godfrey, too old to be anything but cheerful after all Alexander’s survived, and young Kolya (an accomplished Pierre Atri at this performance) for whom painting-on a Hitler moustache is simply a refuge from family tensions.
The two are together at the bustling play’s quiet end, where Alexander’s spectacles, like other objects in the action, intensify this varied, vastly entertaining, memorable play and production.
Alexander: Patrick Godfrey.
Sasha: Lisa Diveney.
Ivan: Paul Wyett.
Thomas: Alex Large.
Kolya: Pierre Atri/Albie Marber.
Clara: Georgia Henshaw.
Petya: James Musgrave.
Zhenya: Wendy Nottingham.
Natalia: Emily Bruni.
Director: Nina Raine.
Designer: James Turner.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Alex Caplen.
Assistant director: Jonny Kelly.