Some Questions On Russian Theatre In London

Phoebe Taplin has kindly sent me some questions, which I attempt to answer below.

Why are you particularly interested in Russian drama?

I’m not sure that I am particularly–I’m interested in Russia, Russian, Russian literature, drama, so Russian drama follows naturally enough.  Russian drama…err…isn’t that good compared with other branches of Russian literature, or with English(-language) drama.

In Russia itself you get a lot of adaptations of non-dramatic works on stage together with foreign-language plays and adaptations of foreign-language non-dramatic works, in a way that you don’t here.   So I’m hardly alone in my opinions…

The idea of the Russian Theatre in London page is that since I have a blog and I tend to look out this kind of information for my own purposes I might as well share it in case it’s useful to other people.

Which have been the best productions you have seen recently?

I enjoyed the Vakhtangov Uncle Vanya that Roman Abramovich paid for last Autumn and the National’s White Guard, though that’s some time ago by now.

Do you think London is a good place to see Russian plays? Why? Why not?

Surely it depends what you’re comparing it with.  You tend to see more Russian plays than other foreign-language ones put on here, and similarly I’m sure you see more here than in other places in the UK (but that’s true of everything).

But you’d see far more English-language (never mind Russian!) plays put on in Russia of course…

I think what strikes me is the way that Chekhov has been canonised as a classic on the same kind of level of Shakespeare.  This means you see many, many productions of his plays and in many of these nobody has realised that the characters are supposed to be both ridiculous and tragic; or even asked themselves who these people are–what they are like–if that is what they say and what they do.

I don’t think that the default naturalistic/TV style of acting does much of Russian drama a great deal of good either.  And not only Russian drama of course–you get bizarrely naturalistic Brecht among other painful errors…

I also often get the feeling when seeing Russian plays here that I know what the play is about but the cast and director don’t.

So my answer may well be ‘No’, unfortunately enough, for the the reasons given.

Referring to my account of Russian plays in 2012/13, I would encourage people thinking of having a go to eschew both Chekhov and adaptations, and to put on something by a real dramatist who is not Chekhov–Bulgakov or Ostrovsky in the first place.  I also don’t believe that any of The Bedbug, Mystery-Bouffe or indeed Woe from Wit have been seen in London for a long time.  That would be somewhere to start…

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