THEATRE / Under Western Eyes - Chelsea Centre Theatre

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The Independent Culture
Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes, about a student caught up in the violence of revolutionary Russia, was published in 1911 to muted reaction from readers. Perhaps they agreed with the man who during the interval of its stage adaptation could be heard saying: 'It's a book you start but don't finish, because you very quickly lose the thread of who is who'.

Paul Killick's script neatly divides the novel into two one-hour acts; the first is set in Russia, where Razumov, the student, becomes an unwilling accessory to the murder of a politician; the second in Switzerland, where he is (falsely) feted as a hero and must lay the ghosts of the people and principles he betrayed. Despite the multiple characters taken on by the cast of four, it is to the credit of writer (and his co-director Mary Bird) that you never lose track of the action.

The play is delivered with all the pluck and verve you would expect from a production team whose credits include a season at Millwall Football Club, where Killick and Bird put on plays for the terraces before home games. The thundering percussion and horror-score sound-effects, delivered by the cast perched upon the scaffolding set, shows they have learned a thing or two about crowd control. But it cannot prevent the soul-searching and political debate between Patrick Loomer's hand-wringing Razumov, a thinker, and Julian Flemyng's fist-waving Haldin, a doer, from being sleep-inducing. And at 30 minutes past the 90, despite some fine support play (notably from Michael Warburton) it leaves the audience struggling in extra time.

To 5 Sept, 071 352 1967.

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