Ostensibly a black comedy, A Russian Play is actually rather like the stand-up gig you long to forget – you know the one, where you like the comedians but they just can’t make you laugh. Pegged as being a cross between Withnail and I and Crime and Punishment, John Thompson’s new play feels more like a tepid imitation of both.
It’s 1916 on the eve of revolution in Petrograd. Two unlikely friends (a poet and a revolutionary) are huddling in a small attic trying to survive poverty and starvation. When they attempt to rent out a bed to a lodger things develop with tragic results.
In David Salter’s amiable production the cast give spirited performances. Tom Kanji as pained writer Fyodor has a touching fragility and as frustrated man of action, Alexei Dan Percival is suitably fists first, in a bombastic performance.
Olivia Du Monceau’s detailed design gives a palpable sense of the cramped squalor in which these desperate men have to live.
There are philosophical echoes of Samuel Beckett in this vagabond relationship and some interesting ideas around violence necessitated by poverty. But these threads are not developed into any tangible discussion, leaving A Russian Play to flounder into something of a non-event.
The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London, February 16-March 4
- John Thompson
- David Salter
- The Red & Grey Theatre Company
- Cast includes
- Tom Kanji, Dan Percival, Will Rodell, Harry Saks
- Running time