Archive for May, 2013

Epilogue (Olga Ivanova)

May 29, 2013

remain there in that book
with a sinking feeling–delirious
with that shouting crowd
towards shared sorrow to come

like a frail straw, being the age,
like a mote in God’s eye
Aleksandr Blok’s unknown lady
Dmitri Prigov’s ballerina girl

in that universal casket
in that unprecedented exile
in that senseless lane by night
in that stupid bloody scarf…



в книге, нутро холодящей,
так и остаться — бредущей
с этой толпою галдящей
к общей печали грядущей,

века соломинкой ломкой,
Божьего ока соринкой,
блоковскою незнакомкой,
приговскою балеринкой —

в этой вселенской шкатулке,
в этой неслыханной ссылке,
в этом ночном переулке,
в этой дурацкой косынке…

The Stoker, ICA Cinema 26 May

May 27, 2013



One of those films where the audience were laughing nervously with relief at the end, hardly believing they had managed to survive something so tedious.

This was the last film of Aleksei Balabanov, who marked it by dying a week or two ago, and is set in St Petersburg in the lawless 1990s.  Our protagonist is Major Skryabin, an ethnic Yakut who was concussed in Afghanistan and is now working as a stoker.  He also has a daughter (Sasha) with expensive tastes.

He obliges a corrupt policeman who he got to know in Afghanistan by disposing of inconvenient corpses in his furnaces.  The policeman’s daughter Masha runs a shop selling Yakut furs with Masha, and they share the affections of the policeman’s silencious sidekick.

It’s not going to end happily…

The structure of the film is that characters trudge through the snow to witness or take part in scenes of stylised evil, and so it very much recalls Of Freaks and Men, where the characters steamed along the canals of St Petersburg with the same end in view.

The major is also writing a book, or rather trying to recreate a book he read before he was concussed–it’s about Yakuts being brutalised by a convict billetted on them.  At the end little Vera, who has been visiting the major to look at the fires in the furnaces, reads the unfinished manuscript and we get some pastiche sepia porn, very like an out-take from Of Freaks and Men.

You could also see this as straightforward Putinite propaganda–in the 90s Heroes of the Soviet Union had not where to lay their head, but order has been restored now…

Sappho…in 9 fragments, Rose Theatre 27 May

May 27, 2013


Picture I appropriated from

Picture I appropriated from

This turned out to be a monodrama lasting 65 minutes by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, with the single performer Victoria Grove getting to play I guess four parts.  It started with Sappho in a wooden cage thing with ropes and sheeting beginning the Hymn to Aphrodite with rather Modern Greek pronunciation and leaving out the specific invocation of the god and her attributes.  I feared the worst.

As the thing developed Sappho explained how she had become a thing of gaps, which gaps men had attempted to fill with salacious pedantry, and by making her die for the love of a sweaty public transport worker (Phaon the ferryman).  This was built around sections and phrases from Sappho’s surviving works and other literary sources, including Yeats, the myth from The Symposium, and other sources I probably should have recognised.

Then we got into the affair between Atthis, a young American actress now, and the star who was playing Phaedra (in a play that had apparently gained the most famous line from Medea) and that was very good, especially as Victoria Grove got to play both of them and the star’s daughter as well.  And threw herself about the roped cage, not infrequently hanging upside-down to deliver her lines.

That’s what you need to do of course:  put what you want to say about Sappho and women in the theatre and love into concrete characters and their relationships, not a public lecture.

As for the 9 fragments, using the Voigt numbering I detected at least allusions to Nos 1, 34, 47, 49, 53, 94, 105A, 105B, 110, 111, 120, 130, 145, 137.

What was the reason for the cage and the ropes?  The human female form divine was hardly invisible to the Greeks in the way it was in the Christian era, after all.  Maybe that Sappho turned confinement to her own purposes in the same way that loss of the text became polyvalency.


(See here for what I know of other Greek plays in London.)

Dido Queen of Carthage, Greenwich Theatre 22 May

May 24, 2013


Picture from

Picture from

Well I enjoyed this performance, probably because it was a good play!  The theatre was perhaps a quarter full, to be kind, and at the beginning at least I often had difficulties in catching what the actors were saying, both because of uneven delivery of Marlowe’s blank verse and because they were just facing away from the audience.

It wasn’t my fault anyway since I had prepared myself by reading the text, so I can report that there was a prologue adopted from somewhere else and The Passionate Shepherd to His Love had been adopted as a kind of leitmotiv.

How much the tricksy lighting, vocalise, and stylised playing with ropes actually helped things is hard to say, but I thought the puppet Ascanius was good.  The actors became more settled in their delivery as time went on, though Aeneas was never exactly secure in this regard and insecurity seemed to be the keynote of Dido’s characterisation.

The ending would have been overwhelming if the cast had just sung a bit better and in two parts.

There is a ticket offer as follows:

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Larisa and the Merchants, Arcola Studio 2, 02 May

May 4, 2013



In your dreams, girl (from

This is a version by Samuel Adamson of Bespridannitsa by the 19th-century Russian dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky.  As so often with Ostrovsky, we are in a town on the Volga towards the end of the 19th century.  The young and beautiful Larisa has no dowry, so finding a husband will be difficult.  Moreover, she has been captivated by the upper-class steamship proprietor Paratov, who disappeared suddenly.  But she has decided to make the best of the bad job and marry Karandyshev, a government official, who has only one thing to be said in his favour–he loves her.  Then of course Paratov returns and somehow you know that things aren’t going to turn out well..

I had two difficulties with this performance.  The first was that the part of Larisa was severely underplayed–there was no sign of the desperate craving for happiness that leads you to wreck the world for what you know is impossible or indeed the lightning changes in mood.  I think that in general Ostrovsky requires a more declamatory style of performance.  The text seemed to have been toned down along the same lines as well.  Instead of  Larisa’s final speech:

Let them be merry, if they feel like it…I don’t want to get in anyone’s way.  Live, all of you live!  You have to live, and I have to die…I’m not complaining about anyone, I’m not angry at anyone…you are all good people…I love you…all of you.  (Blows a kiss)

we got something much more restrained:

Let those who are happy be happy…live, live…love…

Also we didn’t really get any feeling of the merchants as belonging to their own caste separate from the rest of the world and living by their own rules.  In fact, the title may have given the idea that Paratov was just another of the merchants when in fact it was the contact with another world that proved fatal, as in Madame Bovary and many other places you can think of.  Here the merchants were got up rather as modern Russian businessmen who certainly don’t as yet constitute a hereditary caste.  The first thing with Ostrovsky is the patriarchal way of life and how it destroys people:  you need to establish that before moving on to anything else.

The production was perfectly lucid and you could tell who was who and what was going on.  Sam Phillips as Paratov was  very good– sexy and imposing and dangerous–though perhaps he needed to be more of a creep as well.

There is a Bank Holiday £5 Ticket Offer for 6 May and director Jacqui Honess-Martin will be giving a talk at Pushkin House on 21 May.  And see here for what I know about other Russian plays in London.