Into The Whirlwind @ Noel Coward Theatre

Written for http://www.fourthwallmagazine.co.uk

Based on Eugenia Ginzburg’s 1967 book Journey Into The Whirlwind, Russian powerhouse Sovremennik’s first offering examines the horrifying effects of Stalinist tyranny on all who stood in its path, and most upsettingly, even those who didn’t.

By far the most political piece Sovremennik brings to London this season it is a fascinating look into this bloody period of Russian history (and an interesting one to pick in the face of the apparent closing of Russia’s contemporary Iron Fist). Ginzburg’s tale of her imprisonment marries the factual knowhow of a historian (she was a history professor before becoming a journalist) with the flair of a poet. Wince inducing facts and figures are packaged in a mixture of lyrical phrases, which fly around ones head like butterflies for hours after.

Ginzburg cleverly underscores these atrocities with a determined wit, always reminding us that these are women, not numbers. There is much gallows humour in this tragedy and she unsentimentally shows humanity’s capability for survival through this coarse laughter.

It is in these cramped prison cell scenes where Sovremennik’s impeccable skill at detailed ensemble work is shown to its best advantage. Even the smallest roles have been intricately studied and the lead voices are rich with subtle complexity, with Marina Khazova’s broken spirit particularly compelling. But to fully appreciate this vivid tapestry you need to sit very close and with the surtitles as a further distraction it is easy to miss the delicate cadences this company have worked for so many years to create.

Despite having placed this story within Mikhail Frenkel’s epic cage set, Galina Volchek has pulled intensely introverted performances from her actors. There are some stunning stage images here (the final one in particular bringing a lump to the throat) and one of the most powerful moments of oppression comes from Vladislav Vetrov’s languid physical brutalisation of Marina Neelova’s Ginzburg.

But this journey is told through the eyes and whispered words of each performer. It’s a powerful story that needs to be heard, but you will need to sit close to these story tellers to get the full force of their quiet artistry.

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Sovremennik Season at The Noel Coward Theatre

Written for http://www.fourthwallmagazine.co.uk/

Into The Whirlwind

Home to arguably the father of modern theatrical practice Constantin Stanislavski, expressionist master Vsevolod Meyerhold and of course Anton Chekhov, it’s fair to say Russia has a strong theatrical tradition.

Tonight marks the opening of a new season which will allow British theatre goers a glimpse at the state Russian theatre today. Sovremennik (literally translating to ‘contemporary’) will be performing three plays over a nine day run at The Noel Coward Theatre. The strictly limited run has been funded by Chelsea football club owner, Roman Abramovich and promises lavish sets and an ensemble of 50, an extraordinary number in the middle of a worldwide recession.  The season will be the first time that a major Russian theatre company has come to London in 20 years but seems a logical step for this internationally touring company.

The first foreign company to win an American Drama Desk Award they are led by Galina Volchek, a leading figure in the Russian theatrical landscape, and boast a number of film and television stars in the troupe.

The season which will be performed in Russian with English surtitles and will comprise of two Chekhov pieces, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. Tonight marks the opening of the third play, a modern piece penned by journalist Eugenia Ginzburg’s documenting her imprisonment in the Gulag, titled Into The Whirlwind.

Tickets prices go up to £49.50 but for students can be as little as £7, a perfectly reasonable amount to see what modern Russian theatre is made of.

Performance information:

21-22 Jan Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

24-25 Jan Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

28-29 Jan  The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

Time: Time: 19.00

Venue: Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4AU

Ticket Prices:         £49.50 – £12.50 ( £7.00 with a student ID card)

Box Office:  0844 482 5140 / http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk