Ladybird at Belvoir Street Theatre Downstairs Theatre, originally a Russian play by multi-award winning playwright Vassily Sigarev was localised by Ian Meadows and the company – but only up to a point.
Belvoir Street Theatre Downstairs Theatre: Ladybird
As you enter the theatre, all you see is a heap of garbage – plastic bags, old abandoned furniture and broken things everywhere. Then you notice the monitors, displaying static, and as your eyes adjust to the darkness, you start picking out the actors sitting or lying amidst all this crap that symbolises their characters' lives and surroundings. It is only later that you realise that the monitors accompany the story, reflecting the hopes and dreams as well as the future of these people: excerpts from shopping channels, images of Barbie dolls, scenes of war, advertisements, static. And it's even later that you notice that there are exits from the stage amidst all the garbage – there's a tunnel between some garbage bags and an old refrigerator serving as a door.
Justin Nardella's brilliant stage design gives a lost and forlorn, hopeless atmosphere to the story that is playing out on the stage. Dima (Ian Meadows) is joining the army tomorrow. This is his last night at home, and he wants to throw a party, paying for it with stolen steel grave markers from the cemetery adjoining the block he lives in. He's been selling them for years and the cemetery is now down to the last few. Dima is looking for a better life, just like his long-term friend Lera (Sophie Ross) who has big plans for the future which she is convinced will come true because she's hit it big by winning money from a company called Globoshop. Now she just needs to make a purchase with them to claim her prize – but first she needs someone to lend her the money for that. Dima doesn't have it, his drug-addict friend Slavik (Eamon Farren) is convinced it's a scam anyway, and Dima's drunkard father (Slava Orel), called "The Waster", is only interested in where Dima might have hidden the booze. Pretty goody-two-shoes Julia (Yael Stone), a professor's daughter and Lera's cousin, is accompanying Lera for the day and initially seems a bit forlorn amidst all these low-lives. Then Arkasha (Adam Booth), the criminal who buys Dima's scrap metal, turns up with the snacks and drinks – and the party begins...
Ladybird originally a Russian play by multi-award winning playwright Vassily Sigarev was localised by Ian Meadows and the company – but only up to a point. While the actors speak with strong Australian accents, Dima is still going to Chechnya to fight, which seems as incongruous to an Australian setting as the fact that it's snowing at the end of the play.
That some of Slava Orel's lines remain in Russian is not helping either. Maybe the aim of localising some aspects of the play was to emphasise the globality of its issues, but the global perspective might actually have become clearer precisely because of the strong sense of place of the original version. This way, I couldn't help but feel that the play had lost some of its character and that leaving the Russian references as they were would have created a much more intense atmosphere and rooted the characters much more strongly in a specific time and place.
Nevertheless, this is an intensely powerful play. Despite the characters' dire circumstances and the shocking events taking place, there is an underlying sense of hope and humour that lingers in your heart and mind. It's hard to like these volatile characters, but it's equally hard not to because it's clear that the circumstances have made them what they are. Underneath the anger and the violence, they are just kids who want a better life and haven't given up hope yet. Sophie Ross' brilliant, heart-wrenching and subtle performance as Lera brings to life this angry and tough-acting, yet somewhat naive and very vulnerable young woman who refuses to be broken by the circumstances.
Localisation issues aside, this great play demands to be seen, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who would love to see more from Vassily Sigarev on Australian stages.
by Vassily Sigarev, translated by Sasha Dugdale, localised by Ian Meadows and Small Things Productions Directed by Lee Lewis
Venue: Belvoir Street Theatre Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
19 March - 12 April, Tue 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Tickets: Adult $29/Concession $23, Cheap Tuesdays $10 minimum
Bookings: Belvoir Street Theatre