Preview: Masquerade, Playhouse, Oxford

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The Independent Culture

Lermontov portrayed the fast-living high society of which he eventually became a victim in his 1836 play, Masquerade. This Russian tale of romantic intrigue and tragic misunderstanding is one of the "jewels in the crown" in the repertoire of Lithuania's Small State Theatre of Vilnius, who are visiting the Oxford Playhouse this month.

Tish Francis, the director of the Playhouse, has been instrumental in bringing over the theatre troupe. She describes Masquerade as "a tragedy of the order of Othello and The Winter's Tale". The production takes the circumstances of Lermontov's death as inspiration. "Normally, when Lermontov went out for duels, he and his friends got so drunk, the cause of the duel would be swiftly forgotten. But on the day he died, there was a snowstorm and his friends didn't appear. While he was peering around for them, he was killed by an opponent because his attention was elsewhere."

The tragic thrust of the play is that the characters are so intent on enjoying themselves that they are waltzing, blind to the tragedies that are unfolding around them, explains Francis.

The production is "visually stunning", with a snowscape set that recalls the author's fatal duel, and an "ever-growing snowball" on the stage providing a literal manifestation of events spiralling out of control.

The company was founded in 1990 and is celebrated for its tightknit ensemble work. "It's a quality of performance that comes from these ensembles having worked together for a long time," enthuses Francis.

25 to 29 October (01865 305305)