THE WHITE GUARD
by Mikhail Bulgakov new version by Andrew Upton.
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 15 June 2010.
7.30pm 7-10, 12, 26-28 April, 10-13, 20-22, 24, 25 May, 11, 12, 14, 15 June.
Runs: 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 25 March 25.
People caught up in history shown with brilliant theatricality.
Mikhail Bulgakov keeps turning up like a bad penny. Or, a good penny. We need him. Revived regularly – Black Snow and The Master and Margarita among the most recent – his work exhibits irony, political scepticism and abiding faith in the power of art to sustain. Plays for our time, they are also about survival, the necessity to adapt and change and the nature of real love and family.
Villified as a writer under Stalin, Bulgakov also knew fame. Strangely, The White Guard was one of Stalin’s favourites; he saw it repeatedly at the Moscow Art Theatre, although its treatment of Bolshevism’s arrival is anything but sympathetic.
Rather, The White Guard should be seen as a paean to a dying breed, the White Russian intellectual. As if a complementary sequel to Chekhov’s various haute-bourgeoisie, on the cusp of or in denial about the coming Revolution, Bulgakov’s Turbins, Nikolai, Alexei and Elena – based on his own family – are caught up intimately and tragically in its turmoil. It is history from a very personal point of view that leaves its participants irrefutably scarred.
Opening in the Turbin family apartment in Kiev, over two and a half hours we see a way of life shattered, and loyalty betrayed by factionalism and the stupidity and cowardice of leaders.
Deeply affecting, Howard Davies’ monumental, sensitive production evokes these volcanic eruptions with brilliant theatricalism. Bunny Christie’s Turbin flat physically disappears into the distance to give way to the Palace interior where Anthony Calf’s fabulous caricature of a `puppet’ leader installed by the Germans could have walked straight out of Oh What a Lovely War. Later, a bomb-blasted bunker segues into a school gym where capitulation, death and humiliation follow in quick order.
The futility and idiocy of war and soldiering is the insistent, pertinent underscore to a production richly realised in every performance, from Dermot Kerrigan’s sadistic Ukranian nationalist to Justine Mitchell’s luminous Elena and Conleth Hill as her shape-changing lover, Shervinsky. Hill, with probably the best line in the play, “This overcoat is the essence of prole”, has become one hell of an actor.
Nikolai Turbin: Richard Henders.
Alexei Vasilievich Turbin: Daniel Flynn.
Elena Vasilievna Turbin: Justine Mitchell.
Captain Viktor Myshlaevsky: Paul Higgins.
Larion Larionovich Surzhansky: Pip Carter.
Colonel Vladimir Talberg: Kevin Doyle.
Lieutenant Leonid Shervinsky: Conleth Hill.
Captain Alexander Studzinsky: Nick Fletcher.
Fyodor/Maxim: Barry McCarthy.
The Hetman: Anthony Calf.
General von Schratt: Mark Healy.
Oberleutnant von Durst: Stuart Martin.
Doctor: Michael Grady-Hall.
Orderly: Nick Julian.
Bolbotun: Dermot Kerrigan.
Franko: Graham Butler.
Kirpaty: Keiran Flynn.
Uragan: Marcus Cunningham.
A Cossack: Paul Dodds.
Lieutenant Galanba: Peter Campion.
A Cobbler: Gunnar Cauthery.
Officers & Cadets: Gunnar Cauthery. Hannah Croft, Michael Grady-Hall, Nick Julian, Daniel Millar.
Accordion: Dan Jackson.
Clarinet: Simon Haram.
Director: Howard Davies.
Designer: Bunny Christie.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Music: Dominic Muldowney.
Company Voice work: Kate Godfrey.
Fight director: Terry King.