9 Oct 2019

As usual, some finer point of Russian theatre were lost on me, including bringing out the cast’s children (who are not in the show) to bow at the end, surtitles not including profanity (which, according to the Russian woman next to me providing real-time commentary to her English husband, it had plenty of), and littering the stage with seeds/shells then having cast run around on them in heels. But a great show all around.

The surtitle bars were very well placed (both high above the set, one at the front of the stage for circle and up, one at the back of it for the stalls). The only problem, but not a huge one, was speed. They talk so fast, there is barely time to read the bar and watch the stage.

The show is essentially unconnected vignettes (except perhaps by the theme of human existence), backed by the set of photos (new set per vignette) of people the cast met when they travelled to the village where the author lived.

The main guy (Mironov?), the audience was going loopy for him. He does a dance number in one of the vignettes, and it felt like the 45-60 y.o. women in the audience were about to start throwing their underpants at him like at a rock concert. Totally bizarre. He was good, for sure, but it was a lot of physical comedy acting. Hard to tell how well he could pull off a serious drama. But maybe this is his niche, and he doesn’t need to…

Khamatova was… wow. So worth the admission price [more than double what I usually pay for tickets; had to change days, and all cheaper tickets were long sold out]. She is superb. Her roles across the vignettes had a proper full range, comedy, sadness, drama, anger, varying ages. She is such a joy to watch.

A noteworthy mention to the guy who played dad in the first vignette and mironov’s mum in the dancing one. Great comedic actor. The rest of the cast (they are an 8-piece in total) are also very good, but it’s the main 3 that carry the lot.

Not having read the stories, it’s hard to tell how well they did justice to them. Also, at the end, with the dead sunflowers, there was a photo of a woman by a portrait, which went unexplained. Not knowing when the author lived/died, I struggled to work out if it was his mum or sister or wife or daughter. Felt they should’ve said something.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £10 to start with, £13 by the end
(I moved to row G in the stalls in the intermission, good as my seat was, as the woman behind me wouldn’t shut up, talking to her friend in Russian the whole first act).

*Bonus:* Hung out after the show for a chance to meet Khamatova. About 10-15 middle-aged women waiting for the main guy (Mironov?), husbands hanging back, smoking and commiserating quietly off to the side, but ready to jump in to take photos.
He came out with his wife(?) and child, talking on his mobile. Eyed the “crowd” and walked down the street still on the phone. Everyone was shocked. I thought it was a douche move. One woman went chasing him down the road. Khamatova came out practically last. Super sweet and lovely. I was the only one who spoke english to her, she seemed surprised and pleased. I mentioned Tuvalu, and she chuckled at how much I like the film.

MG: We were wondering with ST at your take, as it should be very different from our perception.

ST: I am so glad that you enjoyed the show. Would be good to discuss the details in person – me and MG were wondering how some of the plot twists are seen by someone who wasn’t raised in the same culture.

MG: I don’t think the person next to author foto is related to him. Was most likely one of those living in the village, they all are very proud of shukshin being from their village, so may easily have his portraits at home. He lived mid-20th century, born late 1920s, died of heart attack just above 60, was a disaster in USSR, he was very much loved as writer and actor and also quite handsome man. Stories were staged very close to original text, not much changed and i think, compared to 10y ago, they changed the stories that are included.

ST: There is so much love to his land in these stories. I somehow think that when they were staged originally back in 60s the domestic violence theme wasn’t read by audience as such, it was just a part of a narrative about “life as it is”.

MG: Agree, even me seeing it 10y ago, don’t remember even noticing this bit.

I don’t think the person next to author foto is related to him
Maybe. But that doesn’t make sense to me. They started with a field of live flowers and finished with a field of dead ones. If she wasn’t related, she didn’t belong in the latter. But that’s my vibe, could be totally wrong. I had half a thought to ask Khamatova about it, but was completely star-struck and tongue-tied 🙁

Re: domestic violence, I think that falls into the classic stereotype about rural Russia: men drink vodka and beat up their women. (Probably as accurate as the stereotype that everyone in the American south is a redneck yokel 🙂 ).
So it was actually par for course–that’s what people did.

People were reacting to some stuff around me that, thankfully, was inferable from the audience. Like, in the dancing vignette, when they say parents bought them a flat, the woman behind me made a “wow” sound, and the woman next to me made a “money” sign for her English husband. So obviously a big deal.
But the great thing about it is that the show and stories are great on their own merit. Missing some subtleties doesn’t take away from understanding and enjoyment.

Re: domestic violence, I think that falls into the classic stereotype about rural Russia: men drink vodka and beat up their women.
Now the Russian in me offended a bit… Isn’t this stereotype about any rural area? Not particularly Russian?

Moggie: Don’t be. Every culture has one like that. All of south are rednecks. Jews are greedy about money. Lots of it. So it was actually interesting in a positive way that that’s how he was depicting it (although there was an awful lot about men drinking 🙂 )

MG: Drinking is the stereotype (built for a reason) of the Russians) that is acknowledged and accepted). I was surprised to hear that domestic violence is stereotype about Russians.

Moggie: I reckon domestic violence is pretty broad. Esp in a rural context. I went to school that was sat between Jewish and Italian neighbourhood, so tons of Italian kids. And they used to say how in the old county it was all about giving your woman a slap or two if she was out of line.
Now then, I doubt it was widespread esp in big cities, but probably rooted in stuff. I remember watching “happiness” some years ago in a cinema with a bunch of people one of whom was Russian. There’s a scene in there that’s not quite domestic violence as such, but the guy deffo has his woman in line. And I remember people asking the girl if that’s what it was really like, and she was like yeah, sure.

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