Camden Fringe 2021
Curios Theatre‘s Black Snow is an entertaining musical adaptation of a work by Mikhail Bulgakov. It invites its audience into the world of tortured artist Sergei Leontievich (Anna Buttery), scribbling his heart out in a lonely Moscow apartment. Told through song to a soundtrack of delicate piano music, it creates an atmospheric story touched with magic. This calls to mind the likes of Studio Ghibli’s creations, forming a sense of wonder to accompany Sergei’s efforts to transfer memories of wartime Ukraine from vision to prose.
From the outset, Black Snow’s tongue-in-cheek humour resonated with the audience; quips such as reconsidering suicide in terms of “Who will feed my cat?” and satirical takes on theatrical critics have us laughing out loud. The combination of captivating music and quick-witted lyricism is totally engaging, and I was excited to see how our hero would weather the tempests of Gogolian bureaucracy. This energy is maintained from start to finish, seeing Sergei through the highs and lows of his thespian aspirations.
The Etcetera Theatre is a small space, and the performers of Curios Theatre certainly make the best of it. Clever use of costume, props, and music successfully transform the stage from Sergei’s lonesome writing quarters to scenes of parties and theatres across Moscow. I appreciated the recurrence of Stolichnaya vodka and tall – Russian style! – shot glasses throughout the performance; a testament to the quintessential Russian household. A highlight is the use of hand-held fans and confetti to create the effect of snow on stage. The beauty in moments such as this, in Sergei’s romantic nature and in the piano soundtrack is an excellent complement to the show’s humour.
Another particular success in the show is its ability to capture an impressively wide range of characters with only four actors – along with Buttery, Abigail Bailey, Alistair Bourne and John Chisham make up the foursome. I was tickled by the flexible use of costume to enact multi-roling, for instance adding glasses or hitching a jacket over the shoulders, creating varied comic personas and drawing clear distinctions between characters.
The cohesion of the cast members is an impressive feat, as they seamlessly bounce lines off each other, speak and sing in perfect synchronicity, and even switch between characters without missing a beat. This contributes to the show’s impeccable comic timing and suspension of disbelief as they moved between personas. It’s impossible to choose a standout performer as each member of the ensemble is so strong with vocals, comedy, and sincerity; I was thoroughly impressed by the talent of the cast and can certainly see them holding bigger stages in the future.
The direction of the plot is a little questionable at times; although I was absorbed in the music and taken by Sergei’s character progression, the storytelling occasionally seems to come to a standstill. However, this is handled with self-awareness, and the show’s final song addresses the inability of the author to find the perfect ending and satisfy an audience. This fits adequately enough with the scenes of bureaucratic purgatory as Sergei struggles to appease agents, however I could not shake the feeling of dissatisfaction as the performance drew to a close.
The humour and romanticism captured in Black Snow makes it a fitting tribute to Bulgakov’s own work and weaves itself into the canon of Russian literature. Black Snow combines beauty and cynicism in perfect measures, carried by a cast of superbly talented performers. It is difficult to determine whether the underwhelming direction of the plot comes down to Bulgakov’s writing or the stage adaptation, however the performance and use of staging is a truly impressive feat of fringe theatre.
Written, composed and directed by: Alistair Bourne
Produced by: Curios Theatre
Black Snow has completed its current run as part of Camden Fringe. You can find out more information about Curios Theatre and future dates for this show via their Facebook page below.