The Lower Depths review at Finborough London

Phil Willmott’s adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s social drama is a spirited and compelling piece of theatre.

Set in a provincial Russian doss house in 1902, the play examines the world of those living on society’s margins. Gorky’s characters include a thief, a prostitute, an alcoholic former actor, a gambler and an elderly vagrant. Poverty dominates their lives and death is never far away. Despite the rather grim set-up, Willmott’s production is highly engaging and never unbearably bleak.

A strong streak of black humour permeates the play and the arrival of Luka, an aging traveller with a wise story for every occasion, allows for a little hope to enter into these people’s lives, albeit only for a short time.

Wilmott also succeeds in giving the play a degree of contemporary resonance whilst ensuring it remains a powerful depiction of life in pre-revolutionary Russia. He is helped in this by Nicky Bunch’s highly atmospheric set. Suitably grubby, it is all muddy greys and browns, with not a primary colour in sight.

Among a particularly strong ensemble cast, Olivia Macdonald’s icy-hearted landlady stands out, as does Richard Gofton’s performance as Luka, the contemplative drifter. Charlie Watts is energetic and volatile as the proud and passionate thief Vassily and Louise Shuttleworth is stoic and restrained as the landlady’s down-trodden sister.

Production Information

Finborough, London, May 15-June 9

Maxim Gorky, in a new version by Phil Willmott, who also directs
The Steam Industry
Cast includes
Richard Gofton, Olivia Macdonald, Ursula Mohan, Charlie Watts, Louise Shuttleworth, Andrew Colley, James Folan, Victoria Gee, Peter G. Reed, Scott MacBain, Richard Sandells, Dean Kelly
Running time
2 hrs