Three Comrades review at Piccadilly Theatre, London – ‘visually rich’

Sergey Yushkevich, Alexander Khovanskiy, Sergei Girin in Three Comrades at Piccadilly Theatre, London Sergey Yushkevich, Alexander Khovanskiy, Sergei Girin in Three Comrades at Piccadilly Theatre, London

Kicking off a micro-season of work by Moscow’s acclaimed Sovremennik Theatre, Three Comrades is a paean to human dignity adapted from Erich Maria Remarque’s novel.

Set in Germany in the aftermath of the First World War, the story follows a bittersweet love affair between nihilistic veteran Robert and the fragile – and somewhat thinly-drawn – Patrice.

As Robert, Alexander Khovanskiy shows himself as an intensely expressive performer, conveying volumes through minimal gestures. His veneer of detachment is repeatedly punctured by passionate outbursts as he smashes glassware or cartwheels ecstatically.

A strong supporting ensemble brings life to the numerous neighbours that drift through the story, populating the streets with prostitutes, newspaper vendors, and a spreading infestation of nazis. Sergey Yushkevich injects his scenes with laconic humour and quiet compassion as Robert’s wartime companion Otto, his voice a reedy creak.

Galina Volchek’s crisp, assured direction fills every moment and every movement with intention, painstakingly building the world of the play.  Though the slow pace occasionally grates, this unhurried approach lays the groundwork for the second act’s sudden, wrenching turns.

Damir Ismagilov’s lighting is striking and severe, picking out intimate scenes amid banks of profound darkness, or filling the space with the swooping headlights of racing cars.

The dramatic, multi-level set by Pavel Parkhomenko is reconfigured dozens of times, slickly revealing a procession of dive bars and dingy garrets from numerous angles.

Performed in Russian with English surtitles, the production’s universal themes and attention to detail make it moving, accessible and absorbing.

Visually rich and emotionally credible production from celebrated Russian company Sovremennik