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2short Russians

Liza Dezfouli

Jason Cavanagh’s 5pound Theatre makes a brave tilt at two Russian plays; one classic, one contemporary.
2short Russians

Jason Cavanagh’s 5pound Theatre makes a brave tilt at two Russian plays; one classic, one contemporary.

The classic is a one act battle of the sexes, The Bear, by Anton Chekhov. The contemporary work is Maksym Kurochkin’s Vodka, Fucking and Television. The latter loses something in the translation from the Russian and there are cultural references that go right over an Australian audience’s head, which could easily be cut, but its quirky philosophical themes make for an intriguing intellectual engagement, tackling tensions pertaining to an individual’s struggle with vices which also stand for the paradoxes of life in modern Russia.

Three addictions: booze, sex and TV, are each given a distinct character in order to voice their respective cases to struggling writer Hero as to why he should stick with them. Jack Beeby as Hero has  presence but is way too young for the role –  it’s too much of a stretch to buy his wastrel character as he doesn’t look old enough to have misspent his youth or to have been married. Clare Callow is suitably seductive as Fucking, yet she brings an intelligence and range to the part that takes it beyond the obvious. Clever production and carefully positioned cameras give the impression of pre-recording, with Susannah Frith playing Vodka as a fairy in a bottle, an entrancing touch, and the charismatic Dmitri Pronin seemingly trapped in a screen as Television. These technical devices do lock the play into a set pace, however, that at moments feels unvarying.

Although the premise of the play is one a few of us might relate to, it’s not so much Hero’s personal problems we care about here; we are more interested in the philosophising of the various vices, which is why I wonder whether the tone of the play might be better served with a less naturalistic approach. There’s one howler that requires immediate rectification – the first lunar landing was 1969, not 1970!

The second offering is an example what Chekhov referred to as a ‘vaudeville-farce’; one of the short comedies he seems to have written for fun. It has been constantly in production since its first season in 1888. A lively and funny staging, everyone’s delivery here is strong, with Pronin adorably brutish-but-soft as the roughshod character Smirnoff. Beeby comes into his own as the somewhat sly and camp manservant Luka and Frith is convincing as the haughty widow Popova.

Leaning towards farce yet never quite committing, the play tends to overdo the physical comedy although the hijinks generally are nicely paced, especially the entrances and exits. The production here succeeds where it’s most important: namely in making you believe in Popova and Smirnoff’s unlikely transition from loathing each other to falling in love.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

5pound Theatre presents

2short Russians

Anton Chekhov’s The Bear

Maksym Kurochkin’s Vodka, Fucking and Television

Directed by Jason Cavanagh

Cast: Jack Beeby, Clare Callow, Dmiti Pronin, Susannah Frith

 

The Owl and the Pussycat, Richmond

28 May – 7 June

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Liza Dezfouli reviews live performance and film. She's an avid arts glutton who's consistently thrilled by the talent abounding in this good city of Melbourne.

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