Writer: Vladimir Nabokov
Director: Simon Eves
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov was never one to shrink from rattling cages, as is amply demonstrated in this energetic and original entertainment, devised by Belka Productions. Three of Nabakov’s short stories, written between 1924 and 1930, and set in the decadent Germany of that time have been adapted and interwoven to create 90 minutes of drama, movement and music.
The linking theme is transport, with people dashing around on trains and buses, their lives intersecting brieﬂy, colliding with each other, missing each other or ignoring each other. Alexey (Luke Courtier) is a Russian, exiled from his home at the time of the 1917 Revolution, who holds the single dream of being reunited with his wife Lena (Kate Craggs), who is also in Germany and searching for him, even aboard the same train on which he is working as a guard. Konstantin (Joel Gorf) is also a Russian exile, but happy that his work as a travelling salesman takes him away from his wife and enables him to satisfy his lascivious desires; Sonja (Madeleine Knight) has the misfortune to share his compartment, which leads to him abusing and then callously discarding her.
Frau Monde (Peter Clements) acts as MC and adopts the guise of the devil in the third story in which Erwin (Edward Cole), a shy voyeur, is offered the chance to have all his sexual fantasies brought to reality as part of a demonic pact. On their own, each of the stories is insubstantial and not entirely satisfying, but, collectively, they paint a fascinating picture of people in turmoil inside a country and continent which are also in turmoil and heading towards catastrophe.
Director Simon Eves cleverly uses his company of just six to create an impression of constant hustle and bustle around Agnes Treplin’s set which adapts readily to represent carriages and stations. Only Clements’ camp, cross-dressing MC/devil reminds us of the familiar depictions of German night life in the inter-war years; for the most part, Nabakov shows us a daytime world which is equally corrupted. Alexey, haunted by loneliness, turns to drugs which are easily available and contemplates suicide; Konstantin has lost all sense of morality and feels free to trample over others at will; Erwin will pay any price to get what would otherwise be unattainable.
Presented as part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture, this is a vibrant and highly unusual work of theatre, imaginatively conceived and well performed. Notwithstanding the bleakness of its vision, it always holds our interest and offers considerable entertainment.
Photo: Oliver King
Runs until 17th May