Pros: Everything about this production is fantastic. From the casting and directing to the set design. Brian Friel’s adaptation of Fathers and Sons is wonderful from start to finish.
Cons: None that I can think of. Though some may argue this would be better performed on a big West End stage, the Donmar Theatre offers enough size and space to ensure the audience feels involved in the story without feeling suffocated.
Set in Russia in 1859, Ivan Tugenev’s Fathers and Sons tells the story of Arkady, played by Joshua James, a young student who is returning home from university in St Petersburg following his graduation. He arrives at his family’s estate with his friend Bazarov (Seth Numrich) in tow. Bazarov is a passionate and charismatic nihilist who dismisses romance and has charmed Arkady into following his beliefs without question. Arkady’s father Nikolai (Anthony Calf) welcomes his son home with open arms and explains that he has had a new child with the housemaid Fenichka (Caoilfhionn Dunne). Arkady receives the news happily, pleased that his father is finally beginning to move on with his life after being widowed.
While they are staying on Nikolai’s estate, Bazarov begins to fall for neighbour Anna who regularly visits with her sister Katya and the elderly Princess Olga played by Susan Engel. Engel has fantastic comic timing; her deadpan delivery is the cause of much laughter from the audience. After several weeks, Bazarov and Arkady visit Bazarov’s parents Vassily and Arina played by Karl Johnson and Lindy Whiteford respectively. Though the love and devotion they have for their son is clear to see, Bazarov acts indifferently towards them and ridicules his father for his old-fashioned behaviours and beliefs.
Following a disagreement with Arkad, Bazarov leaves to help his father fight the Typhoid epidemic sweeping through his village. He never returns however, succumbing to the disease and leaving his parents distraught, with Arkady slipping into a downward spiral of depression. Though he is set to wed Katya in the summer, it doesn’t feel this will make him happy and the final scene shows him breaking down and sobbing violently at the loss of his old friend.
Numrich is perfect for the role of Bazarov. His cocky attitude and one-track view of the world drive the audience to the edge of annoyance. Yet, he never pushes too far, thereby allowing the audience to feel saddened by his untimely death. Karl Johnson’s portrayal of a devoted father is one of the most poignant and emotional performances of the whole play whilst James is absolutely perfect and wonderfully cast in the role of Arkady. I cannot wait to see what he does next. Following the success of Chimerica, Lyndsey Turner once again brings to life a poignant and thought provoking story of love and pain, blended together perfectly to create a truly wonderful production. The set designed by Rob Howell is favourably innovative, transforming seamlessly (and cleverly) from Nikolai’s front porch to Vassily’s dining room. Howell’s talent also makes the Donmar’s stage feel so much bigger than it really is.
Author: Brian Freil in an adaptation of the novel by Ivan Turgenev
Director: Lyndsey Turner
Box office: 0844 871 7624
Booking link: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/2014/fathers-and-sons
Booking until: 26th July 2014