Pros: A stellar cast interpreting a powerful story with grace and style.
Cons: Listening to the translation from Russian into English via a headset can be tiresome.
Staged as part of the Festival of Ukrainian Culture, Ward of the Manor is a new translation of Ivan Turgenev’s comedy drama Fortune’s Fool. The story centres on Olga Korina, who left her family’s country estate as a young girl, returning seven years later with her new husband, State Official Pavel Yeletsky. Among those there to greet Lady Olga Yeletskaya is Vasilii Kuzovkin, an old man born to nobility but now penniless. The good-natured Kuzovkin has long served the family and is de-facto ward of the estate; he is also the family’s longest running joke. During a celebration for the newlyweds, dark secrets are revealed and the lives of Lady Olga, Yeletsky, and the devoted Kuzovkin are changed forever.
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this play as much as I did. Performed entirely in Russian, headsets were necessary, and the prospect of listening to a two-hour translation of a play written in 1848 didn’t exactly fill me with anticipation. However, the story was a deep, thoughtful account of how secrets can deceive and fracture lives. The cast were in excellent form throughout the performance and obviously have an intimate grasp of the subject matter. Viktor Aldoshin delivered a powerful, emotive performance as Kuzovkin that was playful, borderline slapstick one minute and heartbreakingly sad the next. Viktor Saraikin as next-door neighbour Tropatchov stole many a scene, as did the beautiful Anna Artemenko as Olga.
The direction was confident and costumes were charmingly authentic for the period portrayed. As a non-Russian speaker, I could still appreciate the emotion conveyed by the characters in their performance. Having said that, the headsets were a nuisance and the seemingly straightforward task of listening to the translation and watching the action onstage became oddly distracting. Watching a film with sub-titles is easy, so why would I struggle with a verbal translation? I might leave that one hanging, as it says as much about my inability to multi-task.
Ward of the Manor is a highly literate piece of work by Ivan Turgenev, who I confess was an author previously unknown to me – not a huge surprise as I’ve never been a big fan of Russian literature. Even so, I can appreciate the quality of a play that rewards an albeit niche audience.
Author: Ivan Turgenev
Director: Mikail Reznikovich and Leonid Ostropolsky
Producer: National Theatre of Kiev, Ministry of Culture of Ukraine
Booking until: This play has now completed its run. The Festival of Ukraine Theatre continues until 19 September 2015. For more information please visit https://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/2015/08/festival-of-ukrainian-culture/.