The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Warehouse Summer 2014
Brian Friel's adaptation of Turgenev's novel is a rich and warm drama, human, humane and frequently humorous, infused with charity and benevolence.
It's been quite a while since I've seen a play that so wholly loved all its characters, wishing them well even when it knew they would not all turn out well. Such a play is not just thoroughly satisfying as entertainment – it is soul-enriching and health-giving.
From Turgenev Friel takes the story of young Arkady, returning from university to his father Nikolai's estate with his best friend, medical student and self-declared nihilist-anarchist-socialist Bazarov.
Also to be met are widower Nikolai's young mistress Fenichka, romantic dandy uncle Pavel, visiting young widow Anna and her sister Katya and, when the scene shifts to visit them, Bazarov's parents Vassily and Anna.
Partly out of hero-worship, Arkady shares his friend's revolutionary commitment, though it is perfectly clear from the start and from Joshua James's beautifully transparent performance that Arkady is a nice normal boy just doing what nice normal boys are supposed to do at university, becoming a radical for a while before settling down, marrying a nice sensible girl and taking over his father's estate.
And Turgenev, Friel and actor Seth Numrich make it equally obvious and equally reassuring that hard-headed rationalist Bazarov is going to run into partly comic trouble when he starts feeling real emotions, be they love or a doctor's instinctive devotion to his patients.
Every emotion and every characterisation in the play rings true, from the intensity of the young radical to his parents' adoration of their golden son, from Arkady's sincere happiness at his father's new romance to Pavel's awareness and forgiveness of his own absurdity.
In the course of the play there will be one death, two marriages and several broken hearts, but the whole is suffused with such warmth and generosity of spirit that even its saddest moments are cushioned with the sense that all is as it should be and that even grief is part of a benign providence's workings.
Along with the two young men, everyone in the cast gives an impeccably sensitive performance, with special credit, only because they are given more opportunities to shine individually and to contribute to the overall effect, to Anthony Calf as Nikolai, Tim McMullan as Pavel, Caoilfhionn Dunne as Fenichka, Elaine Cassidy as Anna and Karl Johnson as Vassily.
I have frequently had occasion to write that when everyone in a cast is bad the fault lies with the director. When everyone in the cast is so very fine, and so very much in tune with each other and with the tone of the play, much of the credit must go to director Lyndsey Turner.
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