Edinburgh Festival 97 / THEATRE The Suicide Traverse Theatre

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
The newspaper headline says it all: Unknown Citizen Run Over By Bus. Now that's what I call luck! Harassed, hapless Semyon is at the end of his tether, hopelessly unemployed and down to his last liver sausage. His loving wife is killing him with kindness and his mother-in-law and neighbours are driving him to distraction, but our hero has an escape route planned. Armed with his 20-step music manual, he will teach himself the tuba and play his way to financial security and a permanent supply of eggnog.

In 1924 Nikolai Erdman wrote The Mandate - hailed by the commissioner for culture as "the first truly Soviet play"; four years later, The Suicide, a splendid, wildly satirical farce, fared less well. When news of Semyon's impending suicide leaks out, everyone from Cleopatra Maximova, the hilariously self-aggrandising romantic, to a member of the local intelligentsia and the nearest Marxist division all try to hijack his martyrdom for their cause. In between fits of laughter, it occurs to you that this was strong stuff for 1928. Then you read that the play was banned in the Soviet Union until 1982.

By the second act, the centrifugal force of the frantic goings-on reaches fever pitch. Jokes come thick and fast and the satire grows ever stronger as Erdman wrings dramatic power and pathos from the meticulous insane logic of his riotous plot, which climaxes in manic, multiple suicide attempts. Conleth Hill delivers a virtuoso performance, a touching, yet gloriously comic collision between cowardice and bravado but, like all great farces, this play demands teamwork, which makes it the perfect choice for Communicado.

Karen Tennant's cunning design sets the mood - whether the 12-strong ensemble are hurtling in and out of doors, sitting down to a grandiose farewell banquet or delivering a fast-forward funeral. When not playing the mercilessly self-satisfied intellectual, Gerry Mulgrew directs with a keen eye for clarity and pace, which ensures that the mayhem is rooted in truth. This allows Erdman's governing ideas to emerge with a wonderfully light touch. The sideswipes at art, business, heroism, religion, class, the state and society spring from the bold characterisations as much as from the playwright's fierce philosophy.

The good news is that after Edinburgh this excellent production will tour the country. For sheer unabashed entertainment look no further. This is less of a farce, more a theatrical feast.

To 30 Aug. Booking: 0131-228 1404

David Benedict

Comments