‘Into the Whirlwind’ Noel Coward Theatre 22 January

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An effective crowd scene (from sovremennik.ru)

Before the show, I was explaining to my companions what it was about–they may have been expecting some lesser-known Chekhov–and I realised  I wasn’t so sure of the point myself.  This is of course an adaptation of the first part of Evgenia Ginzburg’s memoir Into the Whirlwind, about how she was repressed during the Stalin purges of the 1930s, and I tended to think that if you knew the book (if you, for instance, read it in two languages when you were young and impressionable) then you didn’t really need a play.  Or if you didn’t know the book I wasn’t so sure how interesting you would find the subject matter.

And afterwards I think the same, but maybe more so.  The first part covered Ginzburg’s interrogation, and I’ve been a lot more frightened as  a  visitor in a`Russian police station than I was here.  On the one hand, what you see on stage is always somehow sanitised  and not frightening and disorderly enough and on the other I think you really need to read and create your own universe of terror.

But in the Royal Circle we generated a satisfying level of azhiotazh and were honoured by the presence of Roman Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova front and centre.

Foyer at half-time

The second half had an effective crowd scene illustrated above as the women were gathered in a common cell awaiting departure to their various destinations of incarceration; the sudden changes of mood, one person doing one thing and another doing another, conflicts of various social backgrounds and views of life, and Milda hanging herself unnoticed in a corner were all very well handled.

Since the audience was mostly composed of Russians–or so it seemed to me–we had the compulsory standing ovation at the end.  I thought the surtitles (maybe sidetitles in this instance) were among the most effective I’d seen…

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