Pros: The actors’ efforts to play out a gritty, unsavory tale of injustice and lust were well done.
Cons: Poor acoustics combined with an unlikeable story made this a difficult play to watch.
A lone man sat in a Spartan cell longing for freedom and imprisoned by guilt. Zhenya (Paul Christian Rogers) was a young wealthy landowner who tried and failed to live a virtuous life. Jailed for murdering a peasant girl, he waffles between bitter guilt and desperation to be free. Whilst awaiting justice the prisoner is counseled by his crooked lawyer to avoid the truth in his trial. Zhenya claims he was bewitched by the beguiling Stepashka (Tessa Hart), and killed her in a fit of madness. After the murder he tried frantically to hide the dirty truth from his wife Lisa (Lydia Lane), yet no matter the fear and guilt he experiences he still cannot relinquish the memory of Stepashka.
Throughout the play we see Zhenya’s imagination conjure up Stepashka as an enchantress with loose morals. Despite his protests that she put a spell on him, it is clear that he is a husband who just couldn’t remain faithful. He blames his predicament solely on this woman, but never acknowledges that it was his own weakness that put him behind bars. Zhenya is not the only one in this play to objectify women. Boris (Dimitri Shaw) lusts unabashedly after Zhenya’s wife, and as for Lisa herself, she comes across as a clueless woman who quickly transforms into a jealous spouse. The character lacked depth and moral credibility.
The actors performed well, and I felt the strong stage direction complimented their performances. Each member of the cast was fully in character and very much believable, however I found it difficult to understand them: the acoustics in the theatre weren’t very good, and I struggled to hear the actors speak over the noise from the neighboring pub. There were times when they spoke too softly, and then other times it felt like they rushed their lines. I think if it weren’t for the extraneous noise from the pub it would have been fine.
Fortunately the infiltration of noise did not disrupt all aspects of the production, within which I saw an interesting use of flashback. On the blank wall above the stage a projector screened a film of Zhenya’s memories with Stepashka. The idea was creative, but it clashed with the live action of Stepashka on stage; I wasn’t sure if I should watch the projection or watch the actors.
The set as a whole was well thought out. Hanging jail bars cast ominous shadows, and the tiny model-sized bed really emphasized the grim and cramped conditions of a prison cell. The lighting effects were also very good and added the right amount of drama. The only thing that felt out of place technically was the odd choice of music between acts. It sounded like an electric violin playing Celtic music, and didn’t fit the tone of the play.
As a whole this play was disappointing. It portrayed women as either the evil seductresses or the tittering fool. Both men were despicable characters that were not likeable at all. This combined with not being able to hear the lines ultimately made me feel unsettled and unimpressed!
Writer: Claire Booker
Director: Leigh-Anne Abela
Producer: Goblin Baby Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7515 7799
Booking Link: https://space.org.uk/event-booking/?event=thedevilstepashka
Booking Until: 20 June 2014