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Jenufa review at Arcola London

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A mother’s heart-ache, a lover’s jealousy and pitched social rivalry make Jenufa a primitive, dramatic tale. It’s easy to see why those writing for the stage feel the urge to retell it.

Gabriela Preissova’s version Her Stepdaughter scandalised Prague when first performed in the 1890s. Leos Janacek then turned the story into an opera that helped establish his world renown and now Timberlake Wertenbaker has adapted it for the British theatre.

Directed by Irina Brown, the story is compelling as ever and from the start, a menacing undertone draws us in. The strength – or weakness – depending on your viewpoint, is that this production is based on slow, old-fashioned storytelling that takes us into an unreconstructed central Europe of strident harmonies, where a moral lapse leads to murder.

Relevance to our time derives not from updating, but from the fact some of the world has not moved on.

The two lead roles yield by far the best acting. Jodie McNee delivers the simple, God-fearing Jenufa straight, while Paola Dionisotti is her proud, battling stepmother Kostelnichka, uneasy in society but bound by its judgements, as the chains of the set signify.

The men are pale shadows. Ben Mansfield as the faithless lover Steva is suitably bland, but his effect no less devastating for that.

Production Information

Arcola, London, October 17-November 17

Gabriela Preissova, adapted by Timberlake Wertenbaker
Irina Brown
Natural Perspective, the Arcola
Cast includes
Jodie McNee, Paola Dionisotti, Oscar Pearce, Ben Mansfield, Patti Love, Darlene Johnson, Larrington Walker, Valerie Antwi, Colin Mace, Jasmina Stosic, Pippa Lloyd, Jack Schweir, Musa Arsanali
Running time
1hr 55mins

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