Fortune’s Fool, Old Vic 11 December

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Kuzovkin and Olga Petrovna--picture from telegraph.co.uk

Kuzovkin and Olga Petrovna–picture from telegraph.co.uk

In this case I’ve rebuilt the play from scratch, cutting and changing things I didn’t like, wrote adaptor Mike Poulton in the really rather good programme to explain how he had approached Turgenev’s Nakhlebnik.  It didn’t tell you the story though, so I’ve hidden a synopsis away here.

That approach to adapting led to some strange inconsistencies, even leaving aside the preview symptoms.  Olga Petrovna (Lucy Briggs-Owen) was far too old and worldly-wise for someone who had left home six years ago at the age of 13.  That rather unbalanced the action because you didn’t get the feeling of her as a very young woman learning to live and having to use challenging life experiences as building material for her personality. That rather let the field open for the cut-rate Oscar Wilde of Richard McCabe’s Tropatchov, which was just overdone.  Consequently it was rather strange that in his humiliation Kuzovkin turned on Olga Pavlovna’s husband Eletsky, who had been largely blotted out by Tropatchov.

Then the Expressionist linen-cupboard where Kuzovkin was discoverd at the beginning didn’t lead to anything apart from Eletsky courting Olga Petrovna in dumb-show and thus contradicting the rest we saw of his character.  (And some generic comic business with much rushing around the stage in place of actual scene-setting.)

I’m not going to complain once again about the French of English actors–and Tropatchov’s is meant to be very bad, but Eletsky’s was hardly any better and Olga Petrovna was all the time calling her husband Paul (English) rather than Paul (French), which lost the point.

On one occasion, the butler Trembinsky wanted the draughtsboard cleared away that Kuzovkin and his equally humble pal Ivanov had just been playing chess on; someone referred to the Old Master dying 30 years ago, which made it difficult to see how he could even have been thought to be  Olga Petrovna’s father; in the second act, Eletsky wanted Kuzovkin to repeat to the awaited Tropatchov what he had said to the same Tropatchov  earlier that morning–on his mobile, perhaps…

But I enjoyed it and was touched by the  confrontation between Kuzovkin (both Lear and the Fool) and Olga Petrovna (still Cordelia, even if miscast); I thought that Iain Glen did Kuzovkin’s ruined nobility very well, and the rest of the cast will surely catch up at least to some extent.

I think that this will be well worth seeing later on in the run…and this blog has information about other Russan plays on in London, both this year and next

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