The Drunks/The Grain Store, Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The RSC is temporarily known as the Royal Soviet Company, with two brand new Russian plays, specially commissioned, playing in the Courtyard for just over a month to launch a four-year project called "Other Russia".

The impetus for the season comes from artistic director Michael Boyd's period as a trainee in Moscow.

The first of these two plays, The Drunks, a riotous satirical cartoon about a Chechen war hero returning, unrecognized, to a provincial town run by a dissolute mayor and a disgusting chief of police, links directly across the decades with a great Peter Hall RSC production of The Government Inspector. Written by two brothers, Mikhail and Vyacheslav Durnenkov, and translated by Nina Raine, the play suggests that nothing much has changed in the Russian soul or psyche since the Revolution.

The heart sinks slightly at the sight of Anthony Neilson's production starting with a stage full of men in double-breasted greatcoats swilling vodka. Not in a Russian play, surely? We switch to a classroom where the science teacher (played by the director's father, Sandy Neilson) is advocating belief in oneself to his charges.

One of them is Jonjo O'Neill's introspective Ilya, who is soon seen in a nightmarish shoot-out as a prelude to his non-rehabilitation at home. Drunks stagger round the stage on trains, in the steam baths and in a vodka bar populated by whores, puking "intellectuals" and Richard Katz's hapless, hopeless, easily bought journalist.

Boyd himself directs the second play, Natal'ia Vorozhbit's The Grain Store, which charts a Ukrainian peasant community's reaction to the Stalinist agricultural plan of the 1930s, framed in a contemporary old woman's prayer for her family.

That woman, played by Kathryn Hunter, is the daughter of two members of the collective who were submitted, the play shows, to an intolerable suppression as their church was converted into a grain store and they were deprived of their own food and health by the new measures.

It's not a patch on Peter Flannery's Burnt by the Sun at the National earlier this year. The structure's not right, and the sequences of happy workers' song and dance are repetitive. But Boyd's production does have a vigorous integrity.

Comments