by Nikolai Gogol
Belgrade Theatre (B2) Belgrade Square CV1 1GS To 23 February 2013.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat Sat & 20 Feb 2.45pm.
Audio-described 23 Feb 245pm.
Captioned 22 Feb.
Post-show Discussion 13 Feb.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 024 7655 3055.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 February.
Bold choice seeks a happy match.
“Love and Marriage,” asserted Frank Sinatra, “go together like a horse and carriage”. If so, they’re uncoupled in Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 play. Coming six years after his best-known comedy The Government Inspector it shares, despite its subject, a sidelining of women as grotesques (in a world that’s, admittedly, grotesque all-round), frenetic action satirising characters and revealing moments expressed in often frantic monologues.
Central here is Podkolyosin, who seems to want to marry, though more for the look of the thing. He shares with Russian novelist Goncharov’s Oblomov an unwillingness to stand up, let alone go out, and must be the most unlikely fiancé in dramatic history, despite the helpful encouragement of his friend Kochkaryov.
It’s only surprising young Agafya wants to marry anyone, given the sort who turn up to propose as Libby Watson’s set is neatly adapted from Podkolyosin’s home to hers. Constant, above, hang three birdcage-like domes, reflecting Agafya’s pet, which provides her ultimate consolation and has the last tweet. Also suggesting female-imprisoning crinoline ribs, the cages hang over Podkolyosin like the trap he fears marriage would be.
Hamish Glen’s production works hard at Gogol, whose style is little-attuned to English comedy, easily seeming merely overwrought. It has an ally in Laurie Slade’s new English version, which has the abrasive comic energy introduced into English translations of Russian drama by Nick Dear’s version of Ostrovsky’s A Family Affair for Cheek by Jowl (how wearily genteel 19th-century Russian comedy seemed before 1988). Fitting modern speech patterns like comfortable yet well-cut clothing, as sentences tail-off or switch direction, it’s sometimes impossible to tell if the actors are making adjustments, or whether they’re speaking lines minutely reflecting the hesitancies and uncertainties of speech.
There was, at least until the final act, surprisingly little audience laughter for such material. Perhaps it will all loosen up during the run, but the effort outweighed the comic results. Though Mark Fleischmann and John Hopkins provide plenty of characterful energy, and there is a splendid set-piece from Robert Morgan’s woeful, white-faced Naschermunchsky, some other performances are too stolid to lift the production overall into comic flight.
Omletsky: Mark Extance.
Stepan/Oldboysky/Dunyasha/Cab Driver: Nick Figgis.
Podkolyosin: Mark Fleischmann.
Akina: Jan Goodman.
Kochkaryov: John Hopkins.
Agafya: Janine Mellor.
Naschermunchsky: Robert Morgan.
Oddsoxsky: Paul Trussell.
Fyokla: Barbara Young.
Musicians: Polina Skovoroda Shepherd, Merlin Shepherd.
Director: Hamish Glen.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Arnim Friess.
Musical Director: Polina Skovoroda Shepherd.