THE LOWER DEPTHS
by Maxim Gorky.
Translated by Jeremy Brooks & Kitty Hunter-Blair.
4 Stars ****
The Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL to 11 February 2017.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 3 hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646
Review: William Russell 16 January.
A fine revival of a masterpiece
Sprawling and shapeless this is one of the seminal plays of its time. First staged in 1902 is was in every sense a revolutionary work, something revolutionary in the theatre of the time. That no longer is the case, but Gorky’s ruthlessly detailed portrait of the Russian underclass in a squalid rooming house in Nizhny Novgorod, a city on the Volga, still grips and enthrals.
These are people with no hope, no money to speak of, lost souls who drink vodka, fight, make love and dream that somewhere salvation can be found, that there has to be a promised land if only they can get there. They are people living in a society whose end is in sight.
Dramatically it is really a collection of individual stories very loosely tied together and people come and go almost at random. It is a bit like television soap in some ways, although rather grimmer and more realistic than they ever are.
But it remains a powerful piece of theatre, has been handsomely staged – there is a terrific skeletal set of ladders and spaces by Iona McLeish which conjures up the rooming house perfectly allowing space for the stories to be told sometimes simultaneously – and director Helena Kaul-Howson has secured a series of fine performances from her cast.
If there is a central figure it is Luka played by Jim Bywater, a mysterious little man, God-fearing and kindly, who arrives from nowhere and provides some advice and comfort to the inhabitants whose paths he crosses. He tells them of promised lands elsewhere, he gives comfort to the young woman dying in the corner watched by her loving, but incapable of doing anything, husband. Some of what he says is true, some is lies designed not to deceive but comfort. The trouble is when the lie is exposed disaster can follow.
It is an ensemble piece and the cast play off one another perfectly.
Jack Klaff is a splendidly sleazy card sharp, Doug Rao smoulders as the thief, Vasska, who is sleeping with the landlady, the vicious Nastya who wants him to kill her husband, but fancies her sister, and Tricia Kelly is gloriously vulgar as the bustling street seller who is being pursued by the local policeman. But this really is a piece where everyone fits in perfectly and naming names becomes invidious. It has its longeurs, but remains fascinating as a picture of how people in the depths of despair either succumb or keep on scrabbling to remain afloat. The ending is utterly callous.
Medvediev: Jude Akuwudike.
Krivoy Zob: Jacob Banser.
Kostyliov: Ian Barritt.
Luka: Jim Bywater.
Second Policeman: Omer Cem Coltu.
Vassilissa Karpovna: Ruth Everett,
Kleshch: Abhin Galeya.
Natasha: Katie Hart.
Bubnov: Mark Jax.
Khasnia: Tricia Kelly.
Satin: Jack Klaff.
Anna: Adrianna Pawlowska.
Vasska Pepel: Doug Rao.
Alyoshka: Ved Sapru.
The Actor: Simon Scardifield.
Baron: James Simmons.
Tartar: Mick Voyia.
Nastya: Jade Williams.
Director: Helena Kaut-Howson.
Design: Iona Mcleish.
Lighting Design: David Howe.
Sound Design: Neil Mckeown.
Fight Direction: John Sandeman.
Costume Supervisor: Emma Marguerite Lynch.