Michael Boyd’s last production for the RSC as artistic director, the second in the company’s A World Elsewhere season, makes explicit the link between the wold of Pushkin’s ‘comedy about tyranny’ and the Russia of the present day.
Joshi Gibb (Fyodor Godunov) and Lloyd Hutchinson (Boris Godunov) in Boris Godunov at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Tristram Kenton
A variety of different costumes hang at the back of an otherwise bare stage and while the characters start out in 16th century furs and finery, they end up clad in 21st century suits and combat gear.
In Pushkin’s play, Boris Godunov becomes Tsar after the death - and rumoured murder - of the young Dmitri, son of Ivan the Terrible and the rightful heir. But his rule is threatened by a young monk, Grigori who poses as the dead prince in order to lead a Polish assault on the throne.
Adrian Mitchell’s new adaptation, which features passages in verse, has a pleasingly dry sense of humour. While Boyd’s production teases out the wit of the piece, it is also keenly alert to its political resonance. The production intelligently reflects on the tangled relationship between the Church and the throne and the cult of the leader, as the huddled Russian people wail and rail, pulled one way then another by forces beyond their control. Boyd punctuates things with bursts of intense physicality, the performers cart-wheeling and clambering over one another and, despite some early sluggishness, the production has a real sense of energy and drive.
From the strong ensemble cast, Lloyd Hutchinson stands out in the title role, as a man tormented and terrified by ghosts of his own making, while Gethin Anthony is charismatic as the young pretender, suave and dashing but also brutally, ruthlessly clear-eyed in his desire to lead.