The inaugural production of the third Donmar Warehouse showcase of work by young directors sees Alex Sims tackle Aleksei Arbuzov’s play about the siege of Leningrad and its emotional and social aftermath. Episodic in structure, the play opens in 1943 as three young people, Lika, Leonidik and Marat, take shelter together in an abandoned apartment as the city starves. The stench of death is everywhere, there are corpses piling up, and precious memories are burnt for a few hours’ warmth. Amid the destruction, the three teenagers feed off each other’s energy and dreams, finding the strength they need to survive.
The later scenes take place in the period between the end of the war and the dawn of the 1960s, as the characters come to turns with the fact that the things that sustained them through the horror - their hopes, the bright promise of the future - have failed to come to pass. The sense of intensity is replaced by one of disillusionment and resignation.
Penelope Skinner’s version of the text brings to mind nothing so much as Dawson’s Creek during the siege scenes, capturing the teenage heat of their predicament with humour, curiously contemporary in tone, but it’s on less sure footing later on, something which is echoed in both the performances and in Sims’ production. Max Bennett, Gwilym Lee and Joanna Vanderham seem a little too crisp and clean in the post-war scenes, and the necessary sense of them as people weighted with longing and regret, bonded by the pain of their shared past, is never really convincing.