THE QUEEN OF SPADES
Adapted by Raymond Blankenhorn from the story by Alexander Pushkin.
Arcola Theatre (Studio 2) 24 Ashwin Street Dalston E8 3DL To 12 November 2011.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Carole Woddis 21 October.
High-stakes theatrical adaptation.
Russians and the Arcola seem to go together. Last time I was at the new Arcola was in April for Birmingham School of Acting’s excellent production of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. This time, in the smaller studio, it is Alexander Pushkin’s weirdly haunting short story, The Queen of Spades, which inspired Tchaikovsky’s opera (coincidentally currently being revived by Opera North).
Pushkin’s original is a tale of greed, mania and gambling – very much a play for today. `If only I could win the lottery’ seems the over-riding thought in German Hermann’s mind as he watches Imperial officers at the card tables. He longs to join them. He longs to win. Or maybe he simply longs to be accepted.
Everything about Benjamin Way’s Hermann in Max Hoehn’s production for the newly formed Fusebox company indicates Woyzeck-like parallels as a parable of modern alienation. His shoes are practically falling off, his clothes are scuffed and worn. Yet Hoehn, going for a more physical and visual effect, succeeds in raising it into something more nightmarish, hallucinatory and comic.
As you enter, Norma Cohen’s diminutive mistress of ceremonies – startling in scarlet coat and black-feathered hat – directs us, half hospitably, half mockingly, to our seats. Behind her rises a mountain of white sheets through and over which in the next hour we will watch Hermann’s infatuation with a story he hears of a three-card trick that could bring him wealth beyond his imaginings but which instead drives him to insanity.
Way, shaven-headed and a powerful presence, gives us a maniacal, desperate and amoral Hermann, spewing out frustrated invective against one and all in Raymond Blankenhorn’s clever, updated verse adaptation. Opposite him, Jen Holt’s innocent Liza, abused by Cohen’s wonderfully malicious Countess (who holds the key to the three-card trick), provides a touching and wry foil.
Together with Daniel Saleeb’s music score, that nicely ranges through various styles, this is a production that both amuses and sometimes appals by the excesses into which its anti-hero falls. Hoehn has captured the dark side of the Russian soul as well as its lacerating self-disgust and irony. Promising, very promising.
Hermann: Benjamin Way.
Liza: Jen Holt.
The Countess: Norma Cohen.
Director: Max Hoehn.
Designer/Costume: Valentina Ricci.
Lighting: Edmund Sutton.
Sound/Music: Daniel Saleeb.
Thanks to special sponsors: Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, Pushkin House, Jackson’s Lane and the Swiss Cultural Fund in Britain.
This adaptation of The Queen of Spades opened in Studio 2, Arcola Theatre London 12 October 2011.