Friday, June 08, 2007

All the potatos are numbered (Philistines - National Theatre)

Following the disappointment of failing to get into QI the flatmate, and I dived into the National to see what standby tickets we could pick up. Two tickets to Andrew Upton's new adaptation of Gorky's Philistines were forthcoming, and so instead of a very English evening of eccentricity we had three hours of naturalistic Russian melodrama to enthral us.

This is a play and production that needs staying with. The first half is spiky and disjointed as various characters flit on and off stage arguing and shouting, laughing and dancing (although more often the former than the latter) and it takes a while for the shape of this Russian household riven with dissension to take shape. Vassily the father, played by Phil Davis as a fast talking mix of Alf Garnett and Albert Steptoe, tries to reign over his former wannabe revolutionary son Pyotr and his depressed sister Tanya as well as drunken lodgers and rebellious servants, as everyone kicks against him, each other and the society in which they live.

Following this rather discordant first act, saved from mediocrity only by some excellent ensemble acting and comic relief from Conleth Hill as the alcoholic lodger Teterev, the second half bursts to life. The various emotions that were barely contained in the first half, burst forth in a series of denouements. Revolution ferments and boils over in the house just as the world outside is beginning to go up in flames. As the emotion is turned up to 11 the plays inherent comedy is also brought to the fore, as Vassilys ravings are repeatedly undercut by ironic asides from Teterev. Although Hill may get all the best lines, the set ups are beautifully played by Davis helped by a breezily modern and idiomatic adaptation by Upton.

All in all I fear this tips once too often into melodrama and the ending lacks the emotional punch of the rest of the second act, but its still an extremely enjoyable evening.


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