MAYFEST / Darkness to light: Alistair Fraser on the Maly Theatre of St Petersburg

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The Independent Culture
Dostoyevsky's The Devils is set in the dark netherworld of pre-Revolutionary intrigue. It was a time, before the orthodoxy of Bolshevism had set the agenda, that was rife with different ideologies and secret societies, in which the threat of arrest by the Tsarist secret police led to an atmosphere of fear and betrayal.

Lev Dodin's nine-hour reworking of The Devils makes the most of this realm of shadow and darkness. The set is on many levels; the main one held up by scaffolding allowing a dark gloomy space beneath, a subterranean chasm from which characters appear and

disappear.

On the highest level are four wooden posts and sliding wooden panels which turn into the houses and streets through which the intrigue moves. The central panel is in the shape of the blade of a guillotine - a symbol of revolutionary terror that hangs over the whole production. The lighting, the set, the music, the staging - all are shorn of unnecessary embellishment, but generate sufficient intensity to hold you captivated.

The restaging begins with the return of Nikolai Stavrogin, the dissolute son of a local landowner. Stavrogin, played with assurance by Piotr Semak, is an enigma with a dark past, and it is this attribute that the young activist Piotr Verkhovensky wants to make use of. Sergei Bekhterev gives Verkhovensky an icy quality, superficially affable, but you know that this is as much a means to an end as anything else he does.

The legendary ensemble skills of the Maly do not disappoint. Every character here adds to the fabric, creating a sense of the place from the lowest abode to the largest mansion. The meeting of the secret society is a joy, as the conspirators huddle round a samovar, the room wreathed in smoke.

Here Comes Everybody is a celebration of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, the Everyman hero of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. The production was created by Process (Ten 28) a group of four Scottish artists and performers. The company wisely decided not to try to tell the story of Finnegans Wake, but rather attempted to evoke a sense of the work through a performance with no words.

H C Earwicker and his wife, Anna Livia Plurabelle, played by Tam Dean Burn and Pene Herman-Smith, and bearing a remarkable resemblance to James Joyce and his wife Nora, enact the story of how he acquired his name. Accompanied by a (sometimes extremely loud) soundtrack of music and effects, the performers hit just the right note of humour, occasionally slapstick, that Joyce was trying to achieve.

The Maly Theatre are at the Newcastle Playhouse from 18-21 May, and at Nottingham Playhouse from 24-28 May; Process (Ten 28) are at the Tramway, Glasgow until 22 May.

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