17 April 2009

Burnt by the Sun - National Theatre, Friday 17th April 2009


Colonel Kotov, decorated hero of the Russian Revolution, is spending an idyllic summer in the country with his beloved young wife and family. But on one glorious sunny morning in 1936, his wife's former lover returns from a long and unexplained absence. Amidst a tangle of sexual jealousy, retribution and remorseless political backstabbing, Kotov feels the full, horrifying reach of Stalin's rule.

Production credits:
Director: Howard Davies
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Music: Ilona Sekacz
Choreographer: Scarlett Mackmin
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt

Vsevolod : Duncan Bell
Nadia : Skye Bennett / Holly Gibbs
Little Girl/Pioneer Girl : Anna Burnett/ Floss Hoffmann/ Hattie Webb
Elena : Anna Carteret
Lidia : Rowena Cooper
Aronin : Marcus Cunningham
Maroussia : (understudying Michelle Dockery)
Andrushya/Pioneer Officer : Michael Grady-Hall
Mironov : Colin Haigh
Pioneer Officer : Harry Hepple
Kotov : CiarĂ¡n Hinds
Mokhova : Stephanie Jacob
Mitia : Rory Kinnear
Kolya/Pioneer Officer : Stuart Martin
Kirik : Tim McMullan
Olga : Pamela Merrick
Blokhin : Roger Ringrose
The Truck Driver : Tony Turner

Ensemble: Anne Kavanagh, Victoria Lennox, Charlotte Pyke

I do utterly resent going to see something called Burnt by the Sun when we're in the middle of the dreariest spring since....well....this time last year. Skies like grey blotting paper hung over the National shedding stair-rods of rain, and I was cold and tired and shivery and full of snot. And the seat was cramped and I just wanted to be at home in bed. So perhaps thats why I didn't give this my full attention and came away feeling a bit underwhelmed. Truth be known, if Rory Kinnear (who is a member of my "They Who Can Do No Wrong" group of actors) hadn't been in it, I really rather think I might have called in sick and risked the wrath of Him Indoors by not going. But I'm glad I did, because Mr. K. proved every ounce of his worth by showing not only that he can act the pants off anyone else on the stage, but that he can sing, tap-dance and play the piano AND the trumpet (but, fortunately, not at the same time as nobody deserves to be that talented). He can also look great on stage in a linen suit - but I did rather cringe when I saw how hairy his back was (in a sticky-up, fringe-round-the-back-of-the-vest kind of way). Ick.

It was also worth going to be proved right in my assumption that there was an Icarus reference to the title - "Those who fly too high can get burnt by the sun" - although this confirmation came so late in the play that I spent the first 2 hours thinking I might have been wrong. For the entire first half, I sat in a kind of post-Chekovian haze as an extended family dressed in white and beige linen bickered their way through a summer weekend in their dacha, poking good-natured fun at their devoted, plain-Jane servant, smoking cigarettes , listening to opera and stirring jam into their tea while the stranger in their midst proceeded to turn their lives completely upside down for ever. This being Stalinist Russia, they should have realised that the stranger in the midst turns out to be someone they thought they knew, and that someone else they thought they knew has been lying to them all along. The entire evening could quite credibly have been called Trust Nobody. I even managed to work a post-Shavian reference to Heartbreak House's airships into my theory - but admit that this is stretching it a little.
The set was wonderful - an entire, cutaway house, allowing us to follow the characters filmically through the rooms (an interesting device, given that the play is based on a film and not the other way round as you would expect). Walking into the auditorium and seeing it is a real "Whoever built that set knew what they were doing" moment. But, as is so often the case, the designer had thought "Fuck the people in the first two rows [at the National, the cheap seats] - I'm having a railing round my verandah and I don't give a stuff if they can't see the actors through it". This lack of consideration really pisses me off. Usually its the poor proles in the Gods who can't see the set properly, losing the entire top half of anything set on a proscenium stage. But here, anyone who has the misfortune to be crammed into the two front rows might well come away with the impression that the family had all been born with wooden balustrades instead of faces.

In a sense, Ciaran Hinds was perfectly cast as the Stalinist officer Kotov - physically perfect for the part with his big bristly 'tache and jackboots, looking just like he'd modelled for a "Your Party Needs YOU" poster, and not someone you'd want banging on your front door in the wee small hours (although I know quite a few people who would rush to let him in) but there were an awful lot of dodgy Northern Irish vowel sounds doin' the roinds last night. Michelle Dockery was "off" and I can't at the moment recall the name of her understudy but she did extremely well , looking like a beaten whippet cowering before the snarls of Hinds' Borzoi. Anna Carteret appeared to have an awful lot of slap on and seemed to be wondering whether she had somehow wandered into a production of Julietta Bravaski. Stephanie Jacob was excellent as Mokhova, the plain, dumpy maid, particularly in her scenes with Tony Turner (playing the Truck Driver) - in fact, I'm sure that I saw her actually wiggle her ears at him at one point. But it was really Rory's night once again. You can come bang on my door any hour of the night you want, Comrade. Word on the street is that he's doing Hamlet next year -and I might try and overcome my fervent dislike of Shakespeare's most repulsively self-obsessed character and wander along.
An interesting footnote to the evening was the curtain call - given the play's setting, I fully expected there to be what Him Indoors calls "Communist bows" (where the entire cast line up and bow as a single entity and of which he seriously disapproves), but no - there was a proper "walk down" in reverse order of importance. Stalin would have been appalled at such bourgeois affectation and shot the lot of them.
What the critics thought:

1 comment:

bill said...

I believe that the understudy that you saw was Charlotte Pyke from the ensemble - who is excellent. Bill@trueman.com