A Hero of our Time
Reviewed – 21st November 2018
“a work of theatre that is contemporary in its face and historical in its head”
The country is Russia, the place, Hackney; the century, irrelevant. Lermontov gets off the train at Dalston Junction. Pushkin orders coffee at Costa, the ladies of the Tsar’s court try on press-on nails. And at the Arcola Theatre, the off-duty officer, Pechorin, kills time by messing with the romantic affairs of his friend, Grushnitsky.
Pechorin (Oliver Bennett) is not a bad man, per se, but he is driven by a love of poetry – what he calls poetry – and a resentment for those simple people who speak in a straightforward manner, who want basic things, like love and respect – like Grushnitsky (James Marlowe), a cadet who has fallen for the beautiful and charming Princess Mary (Scarlett Saunders). “Tell her her eyes are like velvet”, Pechorin suggests, and, “If you don’t ask her to dance the mazurka, someone else might first.”
HUNCHtheatre’s A Hero of Our Time, adapted from one part of the 19th century novel of the same name, by Mikhail Lermontov, looks at the distance between substance and style, function and form, content and poetry. Pechorin is a gifted orator – a skilled bullshitter, I mean – who assumes that his sense of language makes him more honourable than the people around him. And, indeed, he can talk his way into society circles, win the heart of the Princess with minimal effort. But when the pretense is dropped and Pechorin loses his words, he is as base and simple as anyone else: “If you fucking hit me, I’ll fucking hit you!” he swears, at his ex-lover.
Oliver Bennett is charming and personable, and, moreover, believable, not only in the dramatic sense, but in the rhetorical way also, because it’s easy to imagine that he is Pechorin, and it’s easy to think that he is right. Marlowe’s Grushnitsky is immediately sympathetic in his vulnerability. Saunders, as Princess Mary and also Pechorin’ ex-lover, Vera, is both beguiling and jaded.
Bennett (who also worked on the adaptation) and co-adaptor Vladimir Shcherban have created a work of theatre that is contemporary in its face and historical in its head. Their blending of linguistic styles, dramatic styles, their chic set and inventive staging remind us that in art, the stuff below has a tendency of coming up, often making a mess of the surfaces it breaks through. What a beautiful mess indeed is A Hero of Our Time. It evokes the poetry of a body, a sofa, a lemon, a lit match; the metre of a friendship; and the rhyme of violence.
Reviewed by Louis Train
Photography by Oleg Katchinsky
A Hero of our Time
Arcola Theatre until 15th December
Previously reviewed at this venue: