Larisa and the Merchants, Arcola Studio 2, 02 May



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.

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