THE GRAND GESTURE
by Deborah McAndrew freely adapted from The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman.
Northern Broadsides Tour to 30 November 2013.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 November at New Vic Theatre Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Farce with a heavy-handed manner.
There might have been a macabre humour to the original title of Nicolai Erdman’s satire in the early Stalinist days of 1928. At least Simeon’s suicide is deliberate, not a euphemism for state murder. Certainly Deborah McAndrew provides her own irony in the title she’s chosen for her new, free adaptation.
There’s anything but grandeur about the manipulations as various people try to persuade Simeon (‘Semyon’ anglicised with downbeat ‘Duff’ added) to die in their cause.
Among their pretensions – the posturing self-importance of Robert Pickavance’s intellectual, Victor Stark, pompously referring to himself in the third person, or the committed left-wing ideology of postman George, as self-confident as Victor in the name of all third persons – ‘the people’ – no-one, and no institution, is spared, Alan McMahon’s worldly, yet slightly abstracted, priest included
It’s set in a cheap lodging-house and a pub, where oblivion’s welcomed in alcoholic celebration for Simeon, before some notably dodgy dying and laughter around the coffin.
It may be that venues other than those which are, like the New Vic, in-the-round have scenic elements which establish the poverty of the surrounds more fully. That would certainly fit McAndrew’s clear references to modern England with an Austerity as much politically imposed as the hardships of the Stalinist USSR.
Her parallels give an early promise of something trenchant about modern society, but the play doesn’t translate throughout into the local, present world. Or maybe the piece was never quite as hilarious as the idea of a Soviet farce seemed at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s small-scale British premiere in 1979 Stratford-upon-Avon.
Certainly Conrad Nelson’s Northern Broadsides company go for it wilfully and skilfully. But it often seems the actors’ skills making individual points rather than riding a momentum provided by the script. And while Erdman undoubtedly creates some farcical situations, McAndrew’s version sets-up lines which are funny but in a slightly different gear from the action.
Michael Hugo gives Simeon a suitable simplicity, wishing only to escape the miseries of poverty and finding himself burdened with others’ expectations. Despite the fast pace, similar burdensome expectations hang around the play itself.
Simeon Duff: Michael Hugo.
Mary Duff: Samantha Robinson.
Sadie: Angela Bain.
Al Bush: Howard Chadwick.
Maggie Johnson: Claire Storey.
George Timms: Paul Barnhill.
Victor Stark: Robert Pickavance.
Father McCloud: Alan McMahon.
Nicholas Pugh: Dyfrig Morris.
Chloe MacSween: Sophia Hatfield.
Rosie Philpot: Hester Arden.
Director/Composer: Conrad Nelson.
Designer: Dawn Alsopp.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes.