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The Suicide, The Space

Nikolai Erdman

Directed by Adam Hemming
★★
Pros: An unexpectedly funny script and a full cast with great comic timing and energy.
Cons: The performance was shallow overall, relying totally on comic delivery. Moments which weren’t funny but had true potential to be meaningful were rushed through and caused confusion later.
Our Verdict: A valiant but ultimately ineffective effort to make this 20th century Russian play refreshing for new audiences.
Courtesy of The Space Arts Centre
Space Productions’ current show at The Space Arts Centre is a Russian work with a simultaneously apt and misleading title. The Suicide is undeniably the story of one man’s self-inflicted death, but it’s hardly what you’d expect. Fast-paced and chock-full of jokes, the show is a clever satire on human selfishness.
It all begins when unemployed Semyon Semyonvich and his wife have a raving dispute over some late night liverwurst. The play erupts into physical comedy immediately, as Semyon, his wife Masha, and mother-in-law Serafima scramble about in the dark. Tired of feeling ineffectual, but for some reason too stubborn or inexplicably unable to get work, Semyon resolves to run away. Masha takes his disappearance as intent to kill himself, and hysterically seeks her neighbour’s help to return him to safety. As it turns out, Semyon never intended suicide in the first place, but when rumor spreads that he is unstable and unpredictable, he finds it easier to get his way. Unfortunately for Semyon, people see his apparently inevitable suicide as a way to get what they want, and he is soon heckled by different visitors, all of whom want him to declare that he has killed himself for their sake, and he is soon caught in a web of commitments he never meant to make for a fatal plan he never intended to follow through with.
It’s an undeniably funny script, and to be fair, the show got most of the humour out of it. As mentioned, the comedic aspect of the play is far from overlooked in the performance. The manic energy, particularly exemplified in Masha, is gratifying and giggle-worthy. The finale included some highly dynamic physical comedy – and really, there were very few moments where the show wasn’t funny. Actually, perhaps too few moments when the show wasn’t funny. Despite the obvious sarcastic attitude toward the play, the script remains quite politically charged. Much of what the script seems intent on satirizing is the value of life in general, and the value of the individual versus the whole during a time in which Russia was swiftly racing toward socialism. Unfortunately, perhaps due to a lack of research or interest on the company’s part, or maybe due to an expectation that the audience would lack interest in the dated politics, this essential aspect of the play is completely glossed over. Quick jokes and physical humor are highly favored over the harsh commentary within the script, thus leaving the production to feel entertaining on the surface, but ultimately lacking in depth.
Not much in the way of lighting and set design assisted in this production. A scene in which many fragile objects are broken is quite conspicuously and distractedly arranged to take place behind the bed. Of course one must be ingenuous when figuring out how to break items on stage without creating a disaster, but this staging appeared lazy and unpolished, and left the scene – which could have been much funnier and more energetic – feeling much too contrived.
Ultimately, while I appreciated the effort and found many of the cast members delightfully entertaining, this production of The Suicide didn’t tap its full potential. It lacked the vision and attention to detail required to make it truly relevant to the modern audience.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Suicide runs at The Space until 30 March 2013.
Box office: 020 7515 7799 or book online at

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