Theatre: Sympathy for The Devils

"The Devils must, must, be brought back to Britain," the Financial Times insisted after the Maly Theatre premiered its seven-and-a-half-hour Dostoevsky adaptation at the 1994 Glasgow Mayfest as part of a five-work showcase laid out across five UK cities. That demand is finally being met.

From today, for a week, the St Petersburg company returns with the production which is now called The Possessed (right). It might be described as the crowning glory of that retrospective season, if it wasn't for the fact that the company is so consistently excellent that the usual critical superlatives sound faint-hearted.

Peter Brook has described the Maly as "the finest ensemble theatre in Europe". Down the phone from France, Nick Ormerod of Cheek by Jowl, which staged The Winter's Tale there last year, states simply: "The experience of seeing them bowled us over in 1986 and was one of the major influences on our style. Their acting is something we constantly aspire to. What is unique is that they go on and on perfecting their work, which you never see in the West. We're talking about a completely different level of commitment."

Neil Wallace, who ran Glasgow's Tramway theatre back then, and who has taken on the monumental task of bringing the production over again, has no hesitation in using the word "masterpiece".

It bears, he says, all the hallmarks of being the project that the company and its iconic artistic director, Lev Dodin, have been most obsessive about.

For a company renowned, since Dodin took over the tiny state-run theatre in 1983, for its painstaking rehearsal periods and in-depth research, that's saying something. The 50-strong cast utterly immersed itself in Dostoevsky's shadowy world of political reformers and backstabbing nihilistic terrorists. "They spent three years working on it before they showed it to the public in 1991," Wallace explains. "In that time, the main roles changed hands several times. When it came to the Tramway, there were all sorts of temptations to compare it to Brook's Mahabharata because of its thoroughness, the way every feature is thought through.

"You can see the ensemble's strengths from the first minute of the action," he continues. "These actors have been working together for 15 years, and they know the work so well that they just need one day of rehearsal on the day before it opens." He admits that, even with hour-long intervals - in which a variety of Russian delicacies, from vodka to blinis, will be on sale - it's still a marathon experience. "Unless people take a dislike to the darkness of Dostoevsky's world, I'd be very surprised if people don't think it's one of the most memorable experiences of their life. The book is not 500 pages of relentless Russian gloom, it's 500 pages of extraordinary prophetic and visionary writing about what totalitarianism and fanaticism does to human beings. Clearly it is relevant now as it was in the mid-19th century.

"This is more than just a lavish Nicholas Nickleby experience. While that proved that Dickens was an innate dramatist and allowed the RSC to show their ensemble strengths, this is a tour de force on every level."

If you don't believe the hype, you may be kicking yourself for years to come.

"The Possessed", Barbican Theatre (0171-638 8891), today and Sun 11am, 3.30pm, 7.45pm; then in rep to 5 Jul, pounds 6-pounds 30

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
healthMeet the volunteer users helping to see if the banned drug can help cure depression and addiction
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Life and Style
tech
News
i100
News
Foo Fighters lead man Dave Grohl talks about the band's forthcoming HBO documentary series
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

    £16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

    Day In a Page

    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

    Caught in the web of legal imperialism

    The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
    Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

    'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

    The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
    Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards