Ostrovsky's 1882 piece upon the iniquities of the Russian provincial theatre set-up comes over somewhere between satire and class comedy. Struggling actress Negina (Sylvestra le Touzel) rejects the attentions of several more-or-less well-heeled "admirers", who consequently decide to ruin her upcoming benefit performance and her career. Enter the terribly wealthy Velikatov (Christian Burgess), who buys out the entire performance (as his associates begin to trade in ticket "options"), and offers to take Negina away to his country seat complete with swans and peacocks. Does she flee with him or stick with threadbare student Petya (Kevin Doyle), idealistic to the point of priggery? The power of the rouble triumphs and she vanishes in Velikatov's private railway carriage, leaving Petya to harangue the snooty hangers-on.
Kevin Elyot's version is lively and fluid; there are a clutch of strong performances (also notable are Christopher Benjamin as a self-important prince, Linda Bassett as Negina's mother and, particularly, Philip Voss as an ageing and apologetically smitten stage manager); it's a thoroughly agreeable evening. But I'm left with a sense that "thoroughly agreeable" isn't enough. Perhaps I, like Petya, want Negina to be a heroine instead of just an actress, but both play and production feel somehow minor. What the hell: you could do a lot worse. You could also, however, do rather better.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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