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The Parasite, Theatro Technis – Review

Ivan Turgenev

Adaptated by The Acting Gymnasium
Directed by James O’Donnell
Pros: Comical and poignant. A good evening of entertainment from an updated Russian classic.
Cons: A more fully furnished set would have added to the experience but it’s a minor quibble.
Our Verdict: A modern, accessible production that serves as a great introduction for anyone new to the works of Turgenev.
Courtesy of Theatro Technis
It was my first visit to the Theatro Technis in Camden, just a short stroll from Mornington Crescent tube station. A little bar area provides for those in need with a bracing beverage before delving into a Russian classic. Although aware of Ivan Turgenev, I hadn’t read or seen any of his work before. A quick glance at Wikipedia informed me that the play was originally written in the period between 1857-62 and is commonly known as Fortune’s Fool.
This particular adaptation was set in modern day Russia. Normally, when seeing something classic for the first time, especially by such a celebrated playwright, I tend to prefer a traditional staging but I confess to having enjoyed this updated version.
A country house and its staff are preparing to welcome a couple of newlyweds back to the bride’s family home. Vassily Kuzovkin, played by Steven Langley, has been residing there for many years after being taken in by the family after having fallen on hard times. Now with the return of Olga Petrovna (Naomi Stafford) and her new husband Pavel (Chris Riddy) he may have to make alternative arrangements.
There’s a sense of nervous anticipation as Vassily tries to occupy his mind by playing chess with a friend, Vanya, (Andrew Foster) as they await the bride and groom. Nanny Praskovya (Marnie Nash) is frantically vacuuming. Previously Olga’s nanny she is now the housekeeper and, resplendent in vivid blue eye shadow and leopard print leggings, she brings an honest comical element to the proceedings and you find yourself smiling whenever she is present. Further laughter is provided by Petra (Tia Demir), a servant girl who is constantly harassed and who jabbers melodramatically and incessantly in incoherent Russian. The estate is overseen by Trembinsky (Simon Brandon), the Estate Manager, who appears to have just stepped out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and who completes the eccentric line up of staff.
Olga and Pavel are visited by the odious Trapatchkov (John Irvine) and his sidekick – and some time thug – Karpatchov, played by Richard Wheeler. They bring to the stage something of a pantomime villain double act, making you want to hiss and boo as Trapatchkov meddles mischievously to make a fool of Vassily. They ply him with drink to provide entertainment for those gathered. The more he drinks the more vulnerable he becomes and when provoked too far he lets slip a shocking secret that takes everyone by surprise. I don’t want to give the game away but rest assured that the humour gives way to more poignant scenes as we eventually learn the true story of Vassily and why he is so entwined with the family.
All the action is played out on a relatively bare stage, which is furnished with just a sofa and a table and chairs. A little more embellishment could have enriched the visual experience for the audience and perhaps given the eye something to focus on in such an open performance space.
I should also mention the music, credited to Twig Owens, which adds a lot to the show especially the accompaniment to the wonderful vacuuming scene. The evening turned out to be a great introduction to Turgenev, which called elements of Oscar Wilde to mind in certain parts. Great humour and great tragedy plus leopard print leggings – bizarre, but fun!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The Parasite runs at Theatro Technis, Camden until 22nd November 2013.
Box Office: 07572 283382 or email actinggymnasium@gmail.com

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