Pros: A very interesting storyline and well-adapted script with a couple of standout performances.
Cons: The production design is very basic and certain choices make the fast moving plot difficult to follow at times.
Feodor I, son of Ivan the Terrible, is dead and we join the clambering crowds in Red Square waiting to hear if Boris Godunov will become the first Rurikid Tsar of Russia, rubber-stamping his position after years of de facto leadership on behalf of the disinterested Feodor. Boris is reluctant, it seems, and the crowd are unsettled and agitated by having no leader, what should they do? ‘Everybody’s crying, shouldn’t we?’ shouts one woman, but then distant cheering announces Boris’ final acceptance – ‘God save King Boris!’ – and the crowd can return to their everyday lives.
Boris’ reluctance is well placed; it turns out, as what ensues is a complicated and engaging tale of murder, pretenders and power, with a Shakespearean flavour, sharp comedy and high drama. All of this is heightened further by Howard Colyer, who very adroitly concentrates this eventful story into an eighty-minute, no-interval espresso shot.
At the centre of this lies David Bromley’s excellently delivered Boris Godunov. He stalks the stage, growling his lines with flashes of the Jungle Book’s Shia Khan about him, very deftly portraying the disillusionment of one in power. Bromely expertly communicates the inner turmoil of a man who receives no gratitude for his efforts, and the paranoia and tension that pervades an autocratic society – from the ruled to the ruling. A key source of this paranoia takes the form of Thomas Winsor’s Grigory – pretender of Dimitry – who makes a very believable transition from frustrated monk to dashing revolutionary figure.
The ensemble have the difficult task of portraying a huge number of different roles, and this is made no easier by the production’s design: the costumes are black and grey, the room is black, the stage is dark, the lighting low and smokey. I feel the drab and dark nature of the times may have been over laboured and the result is that the subtle costume changes – a headscarf here, a hat there – undertaken by the ensemble to indicate a new character were all but lost in the sea of grey. This made it at times quite hard work to follow, particularly as there were numerous sections with no set to indicate which location we were in.
Boris Godunov is an interesting and engaging story, well adapted by Howard Colyer. There are a couple of good performances, but the production would really benefit from some more thoughtful and interesting design and blocking to elevate it further. As it stands it is Godunov is . . . wait for it . . . good enough…(oh come on!) but it does not cash in on its full potential.
Author: Alexander Pushkin, adapted by Howard Colyer
Director: Scott Le Crass and Sean Turner
Producer: Ballast Theatre
Box Office: 020 8291 6354
Booking link: www.ticketsource.co.uk/brockleyjackstudio/events
Booking Until: 31 January 2015