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Verdict: Russian nightmarescape
London - ICA - 8 June 06 – 19:30
Stratford Circus – 22-23 July 06 – 17:00
Plasticine by Vassily Sigarev in a translation by Sasha Dugdale runs for 75 minutes.
The play centers on Maksim, a glum young Russian, who escapes the squalor and brutality of his surroundings by modelling figurines out of plasticine. The atmosphere of his world is dark and chaotic, abounding with social decay and plagued by violence. A storyline is hard to make out, but loosely, the narrative follows Maksim around his desolate environment seeing him persecuted by a spiteful teacher, repeatedly beaten up, and buggered by psychotic thugs.
The few lighter moments include a tentatively tender relationship with his ageing grandmother and a hilarious attempt at retaliation that finds him waving a huge plastic cock at his vicious teacher. It is hard to tell how much of what happens is real and how much is in Maksim’s mind - and an overall theme is equally elusive.
A possible interpretation could be the struggle to rise above the hopelessness and cruelty of existence (especially of that in Russia, apparently). If this is the message, the play seems to conclude that the likelihood of any such transcendence is flimsy at best, as the only real triumph Maksim has is to make it through the play without killing himself or anyone else (though the latter is not through lack of trying). Given his circumstances this small victory cannot be discounted.
The set is a large black box with 6 chairs as the only adornments. This keeps the scene changes simple - which is a plus in such a complicated production. The actors use them in various ways to represent whatever is needed. This creates a sparseness which enhances the impression that the characters’ environment is bleak and rustic – but at points it lacks a definition that might help clarify the events taking place.
Because most of the actors play multiple parts (some as many as 6) they often sit on the chairs in neutral while waiting to appear as their next role. This convention is a clever way of managing the constant to-ing and fro-ing of characters. But because it is only used occasionally (as characters usually exit to change costume) it sometimes draws focus from the action – the confusion as to whether they are a part of the proceedings or simply taking time out.
The less-is-more approach generally works for the sake of overall simplicity, and director Leann O’Kasi strikes a working balance between the inherent chaos of the play and the necessary order required for it to be digested.
Costume design (by Lucy Gaughan) is equally utilitarian, giving a distinctive sense of place - though combining English and Russian influences.
Sound design (by Matthew Greasley) contributes to the brooding ambience. Constantly buzzing in the background it alternates between electo-synth and chirps of birds and crickets.
Sebastian Agurire creates Lyokha, Maksim's spineless and disloyal partner in crime, with a combination of innocence and misplaced machismo. He draws more distaste than empathy, but captures the clash the youths in the play face between being entrenched in childhood yet having to face the harshness of the adult world.
Martin Henshell delivers Maksim with wit and confidence. Martin Henshell avoids becoming overly dour in his portrayal, instead finding the humour and vulnerability in a character that could have easily been just a moody Slavic lad. He capably fills the central role and gives a solid base for the others to revolve around.
Elizabeth Kentea plays the most diverse assortment of roles ranging in age from 16 to 80. She meets the challenge with commitment and renders each portrayal with a credibility that is vital in keeping the plot comprehensible. Most notable is her strong sense of physicality and pace.
Adna Sablyich presents her roles with a muscular physical assurance. She stands out particularly as a manipulative prostitute, who is at once repulsive and sympathetic.
Sam Taylor gives a playful and much welcomed comedic element to his parts, which it breaks up the doom and gloom. He seems equally at ease playing a young suicide victim and a deranged sodomizing thug.
Jamie Vaughan delivers an able ensemble performance. He fills out his roles with professionalism and aptitude – most grotesque as a maniacal sadist.
The strength of the production is undoubtedly its delivery. The cast do a fine job of managing the barrage of rapidly changing scenes and roles. However, they are undermined by a script that packs a lot of snarl but doesn’t commit to being about anything. Plastine’s world isn’t one that invites entry – but it’s a fascinating trip for a night.
Cast Credits: (alpha order): Sebastian Agurire – Lyokha/ Second Old Woman/ Stall Holder. Martin Henshell – Maksim. Elizabeth Kentea – Natasha / First Woman (Bride) / Tayna / Lyokha’s Mother / Maksim’s Grandmother. Adna Sablyich – Ludmilla / Second Woman / Woman Having Sex / Tanya’s Mother. Sam Taylor – Cadet / Spira / Lad / First Old Woman / Stall Holder / Boy Having Sex. Jamie Vaughan – Sedoy / Funeral Man / Groom / Headmaster.
Company Credits: Playwright – Vassily Sigarev. Translator – Sasha Dugdale. Director – Leann O’Kasi. Stage Manager – Amy Kinlon. Costume Designer – Lucy Gaughan. Sound Designer – Matthew Greasley. Lighting – David Amos.
(c) Sarah Shavel 2006
reviewed Thurday 8 May 06 / ICA
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