Oleg Sheintsis's striking design sets the action of Gogol's tale in a coachyard; sparing, individual lighting effects illuminate four carriages, their inhabitants, the games they play with cards and with people. It's very pretty, and although there probably is enough weight behind the images, you're never quite convinced.
It's an entertaining story – a "stinging" card-sharp who is himself stung by a trio of even smoother operators – and Lithuanian director Dalia Ibelhauptaite controls the proceedings with sufficient visual flair to overcome the sluggish pace caused partly by a lead actor speaking a language in which he is not at home. Oleg Menshikov's lines come slowly, but his grandiosity of mood and gesture makes a virtue of this, especially when playing against the great deceptive subtlety of Mark Rylance's devious riverboat-hustler type.
At an hour and three-quarters without interval, it may seem too long to sustain what's by now a familiar narrative; but this elegant production (also boasting Phil Daniels as another infernal gambler and Tim Barlow as an elderly dupe) knows what it wants to achieve and sets about it with deliberation and a fair deal of success.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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