LARISA AND THE MERCHANTS
by Alexander Ostrovsky in a version by Samuel Adamson from a literal translation by Alisa Voznaya.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 1 June 2013 .
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 May.
Another high-quality theatre company brings a forgotten drama valuably to light.
‘Without a Dowry is how Alexander Ostrovsky’s title, Bespridannitsa, literally translates. In 1878 Russia it was no better a position for a young woman than in any other society where she couldn’t earn an income. Even a woman as attractive – and apparently the only goods in the market – as Larisa.
Her mother tries every trick to enrich herself while marrying Larisa to someone wealthy. The result is Ogudalova’s gaudily expensive exterior, and expansive manner, caught by Annabel Leventon along with a readiness to intervene and prevent trouble.
Larisa’s fate is indicated in the opening action, Tarek Merchant and Morgan Philpott creating gypsy dances on violin and guitar, sounds that recur to enhance the show, often overlaid by harsh, biting distortions sounding-out characters’ destructive intentions. It goes with the tidying excisions and re-allocations Samuel Adamson makes in his new version, helping focus the action and maintain a swift pace.
Gone, too, in Jacqui Honess-Martin’s Arcola production for InSite Performance, are 19th-century realistic trappings. All is played between two groups of audience, along a sloping wood platform, Ostrovsky’s period mixed with suggestions of the modern age.
Which is apt, because the insolence of merchant wealth is evident, as is the distinct tone of aristocratic authority from Sam Phillips, whose Paratov is uninhibited by impoverishment.
When private enterprises abandoned her, the public sector stood in. Just as Paratov returns to spearhead a new attack, Larisa’s about to marry government official Karandyshev. Not a glittering marriage, but it brings a wedding-ring.
Ben Addis, seeming cramped in his own body, voice wheedling or hollow with supposed triumph (and for some reason Welsh), charts the weak person’s journey to aggression. It’s typical that Larisa, at her lowest point, takes all blame on herself. Jennifer Kidd makes the potentially melodramatic act psychologically real in the only character with emotional depth.
It’s a fine company all round, in an active production exemplifying the closeness of laughter and tragedy in Russian drama. It’s not just the re-meeting of Paratov and Larisa, pre-echoing Seagull’s last act, which points to Chekhov, and why he called two of his great dramas comedies.
Ivan/Ilia: Tarek Merchant.
Mokii Parmenych Knurov: Brendan Gregory.
Vasilii Danilych Vozhevatov: Jack Wilkinson.
Kharita Ignatievna Ogudalova: Annabel Leventon.
Larisa: Jennifer Kidd.
Yulii Kapitonych Karandyshev: Ben Addis.
Sergei Sergeich Paratov: Sam Phillips.
Robinson: Morgan Philpott.
Director: Jacqui Honess-Martin.
Designer/Costume: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: Kristina Hjelm.
Sound: Tim Middleton.
Music: Tom Attwood.
Movement: Anna Morrissey.
Voice: Nia Lynn.
Musical advisor: Gundula Gruen.
Assistant director: Sarah Bedi.