THE DARK PRINOE
Lucy Ash talks to the director of
Russia’s first co-operative theatre about his production of Hamlet.
‘People back home told us bringing Hamlet to Britain was like taking samovars to Tula or. as you say. coals to Newcastle — but we thought we would risk it anyway.‘ Valery Belyakovich. director of the Moscow South West Studio Theatre. cheerfully takes a big gulp of Guinness and taps his feet in time to the disco music blaring
in the pub.
During our talk. Belyakovich. a stocky 37 year-old with a disarming grin rarely keeps still. One moment he is brilliantly mimicking an over-hysterical Ophelia in an inferior production of Hamlet; the next he is talking about building his theatre and ﬂings an imaginary lump of concrete at the wall; then he rolls his eyes and Clasps his hands in awe as he describes the acrobats in Circus ()2. ‘It was wonderful. splendid especially the man walking on the
ceiling' he enthuses.
Belyakovich‘s theatre is on the Vernabsky Prospect near the towering steel monument to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Getting a seat is notoriously difficult. Usually before performances. a hopeful crowd hovers outside asking almost every passer by ‘Yest lichniy bilyet?‘ (Got a spare ticket?) in a forlorn sort of voice. ‘The Theatre seats 120. but . . .‘ Belyakovich sucks in his lips and pats his lap — ‘at a pinch we can squeeze in 200.‘ The South West studio has an enormous repertoire of twenty-five plays from the complete works of Gogol to Albee’s Zoo Story to a cabaret based on the queen of Russian pop. Alla Pugachova.
But whether the play is by Shakespeare or Simonov. Belyakovich‘s style is unmistakable. Lighting is crucial — the stage is always in semi-darkness while actors appear in spot lights or are snatched out of the gloom by blinding shafts of light. ‘I like the way Rembrandt uses light. it focuses the attention on the face. the eyes; that‘s essential.’ he says. His actors wear little makeup and the piercing light emphasises the harsh reality of the world around him — a world of stark choices. of compromise. A
This is an energetic Hamlet. dark and velvety and taken ata stride, marching toa heavy rock beat. Vltaly Avllov‘s Hamlet ls sceptical and arrogantly his own man. He has a craggy, scarred profile. a Teutonic knight with a mop of straw-coloured hair: a historical figure come alive. His speeches are as confident and high-geared asthe whole production. Bodies do not Iitterthe stage: Claudius (played by Valeri Belyakovich who also directs) charges off to die laughing with a strange detachment. The ghost is a massive almost mechanical phenomenon and in general Gothic tendencies are offset by an airol booted solidity.
Russian gives the play a sense of breathless urgency —the translation from Shakespeare is by Pasternak and has been pared down forthis sharp, essential production. (Simon Gooch)
o Hamlet. Moscow Studio Theatre of the South West. Assembly Rooms. George Street. (venue 3) 226 2427/8. until 22 Aug. 11.45am. £4.50 (£4).
NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND
‘I'm a sick man. a malicious man.’ begins Dostoevsky's nameless. tormented antihero. and Angus Reid. in his own adaptation of the NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND. convinces you of it. In whatthe
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distracted Ophelia darts across the stage pursued by aggressive pools of light. It is the most harrowing ‘mad scene‘ I have ever seen.
The last famous Russian Hamlet was staged in the late Seventies by ex-Taganka director Yuri
Lyubimov. starring the late hugely popular singer
song-writer. Vladimir Vsyotsky. When he died in 1980 Vsyotsky was actually buried in his Hamlet costume. so closely was he identified with the role. Belyakovich. like many Russians. worships Vsyotsky as a great poet in pursuit of the truth. and was much inspired by his performance. But Belyakovich says his production of Hamlet is ‘. . . more emotional than the Taganka version. Lyubimov‘s work is very different. more cerebral. He moves his actors around the stage like chess pieces. I respect him a lot but he is a bit of a dictator.‘ Belyakovich‘s approach is more actor orientated. because he himself is one of the gang. He often takes leading roles in the productions and plays Claudius in Hamlet. He applied for a place at acting school but was put on to the Director's course at the Moscow Drama Institute instead and set up his own company
thirteen years ago.
Although Belyakovich is very much part of his company and runs democratic rehearsals where everyone contributes ideas. he is not over-indulgent. According to Georgian actress Irina Bachorishvili. who plays Gertrude he is a ‘hard taskmaster‘ and always pushes actors to their limits. Belyakovich also gets impatient with gimicky business which distracts from the text and is cooly dismissive of Freudian
interpretations ofShakespeare's best known play.
‘In my view Hamlet is not some weak vacrllating boy obsessed with his mother— he is a grown man with an aching soul — a man who feels
speaker professes is NOT a confession. though it sounds rather like it, he paces his room and his memory. revealing to an invisible listenerthe introspective agony he has nurtured from childhood. ‘To thinktoo much isa disease.‘ he claims. and in this case the prognosis is clearly terminal.
In a sustained performance that fills the theatre with the brooding intensity of near-madness. Reid captures the tight-tipped bitterness and twisted superiority of a man who has gnawed tothe bottom of his soul. (Rosemary Goring)
0 Notes from Underground. Oxford Speakeasy Productions. Calton Studios. Calton Road.
(venue 71 ). 556 7066. Until 29 Aug. 12.45pm. £2.50 (£2).
THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR
Gogol's tale otan impoverished 'chancer' from St Petersburg, mistaken fora government inspector by the local dignitaries of a provincial town. is rich in acerbic humour and. inthis production by a group from Birmingham University. the element of caricature is well to the fore. The Department Theatre company emphasize this through the caste exaggerated comic mannerisms and the arresting set design.
things more acutely than those around him. He has a sixth sense'. He pauses fora moment and says triumphantly. ‘Shakespeare says he is 33 — exactly the same age as our Hamlet. Victor
A critic writing in a Soviet Theatre magazine makes much of Avilov‘s ‘un-actorish‘ natural talent: ‘Who is he? Where does he come from? He studied at none of the famous theatre schools . . . He's from the school oflife. from asmall village outside Moscow.‘ With his flaxen mane of hair and sharp pale features like a Bellini Prince. Avilov does seem a natural Hamlet. Belyakovich is the only member ofhis company with drama school training and a few of his actors are real amateurs with other jobs. The son of a ByeloRussian factory worker. Belyakovich‘s backgorund is untypical for an avant-garde director. But with some childhood friends he succeeded in founding the Soviet Union‘s first ever co-operative theatre.
There is no salvation for Denmark at the end of Belyakovich‘s Hamlet. Garbled nonsense language — the sound of foreign invaders — competes with Fortinbras' speech and menacing silhouettes of alien soldiers fill the stage finally five palace columns. the only scenery on stage tilt upwards. turn into cannons and blast light at the
‘It's catharsis with a minus sign attached.‘ explains Belyakovich. Are there echos of tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia? The Director gives me a pitying look: ‘It is possible you see it that way. but I'm not interested in specific parallels with Soviet power or Western power. I‘m interested in the soul.‘ And Belyakovich thumps
his chest very hard.
Such styllsation effectively highlights the absurd posturings of the greedy bureaucrats and adds interest to an enjoyany comical performance. (Lily MacGillivray)
o The Government Inspector. The Department Theatre Co.. St Cuthbert's Hall. King's Stables Road. (Tic Too 4). 6671809. until 22 Aug (not Suns). 2.30pm. £2.50 (£2.00)
This is an admirable stage version of Gogol's short story. Set in the Russia of 1840 when Nicholas l was perfecting the extensive bureaucratic machinery he had organised to run his country. it is a moving moral table with something
of the charm of a Soviet Christmas Carol. Robin Meredith gives one ofthe most convincing performances in this year's Festival as Akaki Akakievitch. the old civil servant struggling to save enough to buy a new coat. And director of the show. Joyce Carpenter. makes a sympathetic landlady. eagerto make him eat up his borsch. It is hard not to be moved by Akaki's pathetic dedication to a stifling workplace even if the anti-establishment message becomes increasingly heavy-handed towards the end. 0 The Greatcoat. Monro Theatre Productions. The Edge. Drummond St. 557 5229. Until 29 Aug. 7.30pm. £2.25 (£1.75)
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