Written by Rosemary Johns
At La Mama Courthouse, Aug 28 to Sept 8, 2019
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
|Jim Daly, Gregory J Fryer.-pic by Laura Owsianka.|
Rosemary Johns’ play takes place in an isolated house – the House of Special Purpose - where the Romanovs, Nicholas (Jim Daly), his wife, Alexandra (Roxana Păun Trifan), their four daughters (Joanna Halliday, Meg McKibbin, Natalia Rozpara, Kandice Joy), and a servant (Gregory J. Fryer), are held prisoner by Bolshevik guards, while the family awaits their return to Moscow for Nicholas’s trial.
During their stay, three of the daughters talk about performing a Chekhov play to fill the empty hours and distract them from the steaming, mosquito-ridden, summer days in their house of detention.
Neither of these anticipated events ever happens; we know the dreadful fate that will befall the Romanovs at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Johns’ narrative is not factual but extrapolates on the Romanovs’ experiences in detention before their deaths.
The play echoes Chekhov’s style, with its ordinariness of daily life, characters’ inability to achieve their dreams, unrequited love, feelings of isolation and being cut off from the luxuries of life. Some of Chekhov’s actual dialogue is inserted into the script which is a special treat for those very familiar with his plays.
Daly is moody and distracted as ‘Citizen’ Nicholas, providing a still centre to the family. As his wife, Alexandra, Trifan is suitably haughty but slightly crazed in her obsession with her now-dead spiritualist ‘friend’, Rasputin.
The intrinsic role women played in the Revolution is represented here by two female Guards: Anita Torrance plays Oxana, former chambermaid to the Romanovs, who is torn by her newfound power over the family, while Maria Paula Afanador is the much tougher, crueller Guard.
Although some of the acting is uneven, Alex Menglet’s spirited and skilful direction makes the most of the large cast of 12, harnessing the enthusiasm of the young women playing the four sisters.
Peter Mumford’s evocative design merges rough-hewn packing crates and wooden panels with elegant, tapestry luggage, and adds some Russian Constructivist design, the combination of which encapsulates visually the cultural clash between peasantry and royalty.
There are moments of beauty, such as the choreographed minuet in an early scene, and the photographic tableau that bookends the play, presaging the fate of this family.
Surprisingly, there is not a strong sense of impending doom in this production, and the audience is somewhat disengaged from the characters’ predicament, not sympathising with them as much as might be expected.
Some vocal issues arise, with a few actors pushing their voices, shouting and becoming incomprehensible in the vocally ‘bouncy’ space of the Courthouse. There are also some moments when the story and characters could engage more compellingly.
Despite some weaknesses, Tchekov in the House of Special Purpose provides an interesting perspective on both the fate of the Romanov family and Chekhov’s plays.
|Three Romanov sisters-|
pic Laura Owsianka
|Jim Daly & Cast- |
pic Laura Owsianka
|Huw Jennings, Natalia Rozpara, Gregory J Fryer-pic Laura Owsianka|