by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn translated by Nicholas Bethell adapted by Matthew Dunster.

Southwark Playhouse 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 2 November 2013.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7274 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 October.

Suitably cold and comfortless.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s massive volumes on the Soviet prison camps dotted around inhospitable terrain brought the central word of its title, The Gulag Archipelago, into English usage. His fiction, sometimes short, often long, explored humanity within a repressive regime rivalled in 20th-century Europe only by Nazi Germany.

In the Stalinist Soviet empire everything that had been considered essentially human was crushed, or redefined in relation to the state and its leader: truth, loyalty, love, human consciousness: all manipulated with a completeness matching George Orwell’s 1984.

Confession of crimes never committed was a specialism of Soviet trials from the 1930s. Today’s commissar could be tomorrow’s torture victim. It could be a matter of accuse before you’re accused. One slight lapse, one ambitious rival, could blast a life – as happens here to Nemov.

Prisoners keep coming, trooping into the camp, subjected to freezing showers and hard physical labour, to make restitution to the state. Solzhenitsyn knew this from years’ experience. Independent thought, let alone expression of opinions, was a crime. Yet his exposure of the Soviet secret made him too famous to execute; a later Soviet government exiled him to the West.

Matthew Dunster directs his version of life in a forced-labour camp (during 1945, just after the Great Patriotic War) with a physical panache to which the Large space at the latest Southwark Playhouse is a fitting home – its bareness and industrial feel maximised by Anna Fleischle’s bare, factory-like set, and glimpses of a concrete wasteland as the external doors open to admit or dispatch inmates.

When it comes to group energy and bustle, Dunster’s on as firm ground as in his Manchester Royal Exchange productions of 1984 and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. But the large triangle of stage, so good at prisoner processions and barked-out orders, is less focused for intimate scenes.

Unlike the Manchester shows, such matters aren’t high on Solzhenitsyn’s menu. The title characters come together almost as an after-thought, Nemov changed from officer to prisoner by a rival’s manoeuvring, Lyuba reliant on the prison-doctor giving her favourable treatment in return for favours. This world is remorseless.

Nemov: Cian Barry.
Granya: Emily Dobbs.
Chegenyov/Bath Orderly/Angel/Georgie: Jack Johns.
Kolodey/Munitsa: Kurt Kansley.
Boris Khomich/Prisoner: Ben Lee.
Goldtooth/Ovchukhov/Prisoner: Rocky Marshall.
Gurvich/Goner: Ben Nathan.
Lyuba: Rebecca Oldfield.
Mereschun: Ben Onwukwe.
Gai/Goner: Stevie Raine.
Gontoir/Fomin/Warder/Kaplyuzhnikov: Richard Rees.
Shurochka: Alice Selwyn.
Zina/Prisoner: Grace Smibert.
Yakhimchuk/Escort-Guard: Daniel Stewart.
Brylov/Solomon: Rob Tofield.
Kostya/Dorofeyev: Adam Venus.

Director: Matthew Dunster.
Designer: Anna Fleischle.
Lighting: Joshua Carr.
Sound: George Dennis.
Costume: Natasha Prynne.
Associate director: Amy Mulholland.

2013-10-23 12:11:03

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