Having excelled as a Tennessee Williams flaky golden-boy-turned gigolo in Sweet Bird of Youth last year, American actor Seth Numrich returns to the London stage now as the brilliant student nihilist, Bazarov, the portent of revolutionary change in Turgenev's great 1862 novel of generational conflict.
Lyndsey Turner directs this beautifully orchestrated revival of the Brian Friel adaptation (first seen in 1987) which skilfully refocuses the material – certain key episodes are reported not shown; there's an extended, elegiac epilogue – in a way that serves to make the play a true ensemble piece about Bazarov's impact on all these lives he condemns for their ineffectual, self-deluded liberalism.
Though he could afford to be more abrasive, Numrich splendidly captures the charisma and the smug more-radical-than-thou manner of this figure who repudiates the entire system and his gabbling confusion when his certainties are briefly toppled by a romantic passion for the rich, sophisticated and tightly controlled widow, Anna (excellent Elaine Cassidy).
You never doubt, though, that his beliefs are painfully sincere. Tim McMullan is exquisitely funny and ineffably sad as Pavel, the snooty old dandy who takes a bitter dislike to Bazarov but turns out to have melancholy reserves of honour and understanding. And Karl Johnson and Lindy Whiteford break your heart as his adoring, semi-comprehending low born parents.
Watching the production is like listening to a richly interwoven chamber symphony.
To 26 July; 0844 871 7624