The Theatreguide.London Review
Almeida Theatre Autumn 2019
Maxim Gorky may not be
the world's greatest playwright. But whatever adapter Mike Bartlett
and director Tinuke Craig saw in his 1911 look at Russia's home-grown
brand of capitalism has not found its way successfully to the stage.
Vassa is a lifeless, shapeless plod of a play, and an increasingly desperate-looking cast seem like ten actors in search of a director.
In a very brief period
at the start of the Twentieth Century
capitalism in Russia was born, flourished and rotted away. The play
focuses on one family business in crisis.
Father is dying, his
are in their various ways totally unequipped to take over, uncle is
determined to strip the company and live hedonistically on his
takings, and mother is struggling to seize and retain control.
are at least two murders, one suicide, a blatant forgery and rampant
adulteries and cross-blackmailing throughout the family.
And what are
we to make of this? There is the raw material for angry exposure of a
corrupt system, social satire, high and low melodrama, soap opera and
The problem with this
production is not that director
Craig keeps switching between tones and modes, but that she doesn't
seem to have chosen any.
Unsure what tone they
are to establish or,
indeed, what acting style to employ, the actors go their separate
ways, too often not seeming to inhabit the same reality.
mother totally unscrupulous in getting what she wants, Siobhan
Redmond sometimes suggests a Panto villain, but without that figure's
delight in her own nastiness.
Danny Kirrane seems to
sense the comic
potential of the son with so little imagination and drive that his
highest ambition is to open a small jewellery shop, but he is not
allowed to go anywhere with it, while Arthur Hughes as the disabled
and cuckolded other son plays for pathos while everyone around him
treats him as comic.
Imagine an Arthur Miller
play without the moral
outrage, a Woody Allen dissection of middle class hypocrisy without
the wit, the old American TV soaps Dynasty and Dallas without the
high-camp melodramatics. That's what you have here.
There is no assurance that any of these approaches – or any other – would have been successful. But the surest way to theatrical lifelessness is not to choose any.
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