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:
The Dog Beneath the Skin
Jermyn Street Theatre
Reviewed – 9th March 2018
“bubbling amusement that frequently fizzes into outright laughter”
After stunning snow, followed by Spring sunshine, London today resumed normal services and only ceased drizzling to tip it down at regular intervals! This meant arriving at the theatre with squelching wellies and dripping hat, and In need of cheering up!
This was the first time I’ve seen an actual ‘stage’ inside the Jermyn Street Theatre. The studio accommodated it well and it split the space interestingly. The set (designed by Rebecca Brower) gave little away about the continental escapade to come, as we waited for the lights to dim, it felt like we were assembled in a country church hall.
The story opens in a sleepy English village with a fairy tale style challenge and quest, which we embark on with our hero (played by Pete Ashmore) and his new companion (played by Cressida Bonas), a whisky drinking, card playing dog …
The journey that follows takes us through countries that do not exist, but which mirror Europe in the 1930s, with its monarchies and corruption and growing unrest. It is a madcap, fast paced trip to say the least!
The thought provoking satire of society and politics between the wars is a constant bubbling amusement that frequently fizzes into outright laughter. The story, although it twists and turns all sorts of corners, remains a basic chase. The script (by W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood) is more poetry than prose and changes pace throughout. The remaining cast (Edmund Digby Jones, Eva Feiler, Rujenne Green, James Marlowe, Suzann McLean and Adam Sopp) has multiple roles to play, each with a lot of lines to deliver, which they do beautifully, in song, in rhythm and with gusto.
They shift both scene and actual scenery fluidly, as props and backdrop alteration are woven cleverly into the action. The ever changing lighting (by Catherine Webb) sets the tone, pace, and atmosphere for each scene, and the quick-changing cast are masters at flitting in and out of character.
A lot is packed into this production. The tale gallops across countries, in and out of hotels, brothels, hospital and prison. It travels by train and boat, meets villains and comrades, and steers our hero towards home. The story offers echoes of 21st Century political and social division: Of derision of ‘experts’. Of countries divided. Of hope for a fairer future.
The show is very good; the action doesn’t lull, I laughed aloud, the cast is engaging and my fellow audience members were grinning throughout. And despite the familiarity of ‘the hero seeking the almost impossible task to win fair maiden’, there are many moments of unexpected sidetracking that are novel and entertaining.
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Sam Taylor
The Dog Beneath the Skin
Jermyn Street Theatre until 31st March