Theatre review: Children of the Sun, Lyttelton, NT
Wednesday 17 April 2013
Maxim Gorky wrote this play while in prison in 1905 in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the shameful episode in which the Imperial Guard turned fire on a peaceful, unarmed demonstration in Petersburg.
Many were killed or injured. You may have thought that a play written in incarceration and in the wake of this incident would pullulate with positive images plucked from the heroic struggle against autocracy. But as Howard Davies's rare and brilliantly mordant revival of Children of the Sun indelibly illustrates, Gorky chose to give scathing vent both to his exasperation with the self-involved ineffectuality of Russia's new middle class intelligentsia and to his nagging mistrust of the masses.
The proceedings unfold in the home of Protasov, a scientist who thinks that the future welfare of mankind lies in chemistry and he has an experiment cooking smokily in the living room as well as in the glassed-in lab that is crammed with retorts and tubing. To my mind, the always excellent Geoffrey Streatfeild has been called on to play Protasov too much as a cranky proto-Ayckbourn-esque geek. It's as if, you occasionally feel here, the Norman of The Norman Conquests had developed a fixation for alchemy. It would be better and more painful, I think, if you could still see flashes of the charismatic promise he must once have shown.
Davies and his regular designer Bunny Christie once again show their mastery at animating the wide Lyttleton space and Andrew Upton's adaptation, with its calculated anachronisms (“Welcome to the human race..it's horrible in here” declares one character) keeps jolting us out of the complacency of galleried hindsight.
With wonderfully well-paced and wrong-footing surges of futile energy amidst the nettled enervation, the production excels at orchestrating the bootless passion of Gorky's personnel who here talk across each and tread on each other's lines in the bitter comedy of the doctrinal altercations and misdirected amatory entanglements.
Emma Lowndes is wonderfully sad and disturbing as the chemist's educated sister, Liza, all clued-up with nowhere to go but out of her mind as a fraught Cassandra figure. Lucy Black is excruciatingly hilarious as Protasov's abject fan, Melaniya, who is prepared to give him anything for the brave new (all too distant) future apart from actually read his books. And Paul Higgins, in the sardonic music of his Scots tones, exactly captures the note of self-parodic despair in the cynical candour of the local vet. A richly rewarding evening with a literally explosive climax.
To 14 July: 0207 452 3000
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Chelsea victory parade mocked on Twitter as 'tens of fans' pack the streets of London
- 2 Preston fan who appeared to snatch Jermaine Beckford's shirt from eight-year-old boy identified and says: 'the truth will come out'
- 3 Johnny Depp facing 10 years in jail for illegally bringing dogs to Australia
- 4 US warned by Chinese media to stop meddling or 'war will be inevitable'
- 5 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
Glastonbury lineup 2015: The Women's Institute to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
Twin Peaks series 3: Man behind the 'dark, cloying and obsessive' original soundtrack returns to work with David Lynch
Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show's most iconic characters just met
The story of a cancer survivor who went on to create her own line of empathic, cliché-free greetings cards
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people