Why should you travel to Brentford for a Polish company performing a 80-minute play in Russian? Answer: because it will probably be the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing you will see all year. Watermans lacks the crumbling grandeur of the now-defunct Richard Demarco Gallery Theatre in Edinburgh (where this show was first seen during 1991's Soviet coup), but the performances of Alexei Zeitsev and Irina Nabatova and the chain of exquisite images will captivate in any setting.
On a floor cloth composed of the enormous tail of an overcoat, painted with a map of the Commonwealth of Independent States, they joke and fight, pray and mourn lost friends. It never feels alien or impenetrable; the audience are intimately involved, but not in the teeth-grinding sense of "audience participation". We are greeted at the beginning of the play and bidden farewell at the end; when Alexei's birthday is celebrated, vodka and cake are handed around to everyone (the cake having been jokily cut up with a hammer and sickle). There's no need to sit down and analyse the metaphor of the title, or muse about the human condition; this is an immensely enjoyable, immensely moving show, and you may never see its like again.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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