Thursday, February 26, 2009

Burnt by the Sun by Peter Flannery from a film by Nikita Mikhalov & Rustam Ibragimbekov, Lyttelton Theatre, 24-Feb-2009 – Directed by Howard Davies

So you have a successful and brilliant General with a beautiful young wife and he is politely despised by her family. At which point the similarities between this play and Othello are probably not worth pursuing but it was nice to feel I'd spotted (or imagined) it.
It would probably be better to make allusions to Chekhov - thirty yeas on but I felt that at least one of the writers (Peter Flannery or the writers of the original film) was self-consciously aware of this. There was a chorus of former land-owning hangers on who could be loosely described as Chekhovian but I had the sense that they were fully aware that they might be seen like that.
OK (after the waffle) the setup:A former Revolutionary and Civil War hero General Kotov (Ciaran Hinds), lives in semi retirement with his young wife Maroussia (Michelle Dockery) and their daughter. He tolerates the presence of her her snobbish semi-aristocratic extended family while they, politely, regard him as some kind of ill-educated thug – I think the play didn't try to feature the disgust that the family might easily have felt to the married couple. Into this idyllic Stalinist world comes Mitia (Rory Kinnear) a former student of Maroussia's musician father and lover of Maroussia. The General seems to know Mitia and is surprisingly tolerant of the closeness between Mitia and his wife. Of course Mitia has an agenda...
I think that while enjoyable, I could see that this play had plenty of places where it could have taken a much more raw and powerful turn but it chose a steadier path. It may well have been for the best but I think it lost out on intensity. Maybe that was the work's film origins showing through, perhaps it was insufficiently theatrical.
I didn't feel that I was given enough of a reason for Mitia's shallow behaviour perhaps a film would show lots of close ups etc. to illustrate it better. I doubt the too many others will mind as it sometimes seemed as if the part was just a brilliant showcase for Rory Kinnear's talents (bit suspicious about some of the piano playing but the singing and dancing were excellent).
I sometimes worry that people might cast Michelle Dockery just to stand around looking beautiful and imperious because it is always better to see her act. I particularly noticed a secret look of girlish delight at Mitia's return and a more prominent occasion when she was spellbound by his presence, simply tapping a glass.
I want to say that Ciaran Hinds had the look of Stalin about him but that wouldn't convey his character's generous, almost innocent spirit or how well he played it.

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