For Love or for Convenience?
Russian Classics Theatre and director Dimitri Devdariani presented a performance "It's Not All Shrovetide for the Cat" based on famous Russian playwright Alexandr Ostrovsky's play. This play is not known to the Western audiences as it wasn't even translated into English until now, but it is much loved by Russian-speaking theatre-goers. Ostrvosky wrote about his play that "it's more of an etude than a play; there are no stage effects in it; this thing is written for connoisseurs."
Dimitri Devdatiani's production is in fact the premier of this play on British soil. The play is one of the most elegant and cheerful works of A. Ostrovsky, however, the lightness of the form does not exclude the depth of the content, because this playwright is famous for his ability to talk about serious things jokingly.
For love or for convenience? This eternal question is not only for a girl of "marriage". How many times in a lifetime does everyone have to make this choice! The question of the power of money is as relevant nowadays as during Ostrovsky's time. In the play everyone answers it in his own way and the playwright is also making us reflect on what real dignity of a human and true love are.
Dimitri Devdariani stages the play at Tea House Theatre in a very cosy and home-like environment. Set design by Irina Uzzеll reminds the style of traditional Russian lubok and cleverly depicts a cat on a window sill from the proverb that gave name to the play. A real cat walks between the chairs of the spectators during the performance and passes in front of the stage making the theatre even more homely.
The actors are placed so close to the audience that their acting becomes the main attraction of the production as we can see all their emotions so vividly.
Agnia by Olga Zakharevskaya is performed as obidient to her mother and at the same time frisky girl who desperately tries to make her prospective groom Hippolytus more manly. In the play she clearly proclaimers that she doesn't like cowards and the actress performs Agnia balancing on the border between obedience and rebellion when the actress demonstrates a free spirit of her character.
In the production Agnia and her mother Daria Kruglova performed by Lina Kriuchkova are showing a loving relationship so that we can see a true bond between them. We appreciate the way Kruglova wishes the best for her daughter while recalling how gravely she suffered in her loveless marriage. Kriuchkova performes Kruglova as a cordial simple woman who possesses a wisdom of a loving heart. It shows even in the way she kindly treats her useless maid Malania, graphically performed by Luba Slipa. Malanya keeps forgetting the messages she is supposed to pass to Kruglova and nearly falls asleep while talking, but she is still treated almost like a member of the family. The director focuses on this humility in the relationship between people in Kruglova's home in order to show us what can really oppose the power of money.
Agnia's admirer Hyppolitus is portrayed by Leonid Kara as shy and modest person, who is struggling to stand up for himself and it's interesting to see how the actor is showing us his transformation into a brave man who confronts his master about the money he owes him. I think that the actor needs to express even more courage and boldness on the edge with madness out of despair in order to make the portrayal of Hippolytus more impressive. His confrontation with Akhov is the climax of the performance and it would be interesting to see what really makes Akhov believe that Hippolytus is actually is about to kill himself.
Bijan Badi's Akhov is a man, confident that money rule this world and at the same time we can feel that something is terribly wrong within his heart as he desperately wants people to bow to him as if to prove to himself that he is worth the admiration. This actor has a rare ability to truly live on stage and we almost sympathise with his cruel Akhov when he reveals how lonely and scared he is being alone in his large house.
A real gem of this production is Feona, Akhov's housekeeper, performed by Maria Alexandrova. The actress creates a really striking image of a noisy but wise woman who can be funny and charming at the same time. Her facial expressions are really telling and her authentic costume also helps to create a lively character.
The director Dimitri Devdariani and his actors follow the tradition of portraying the time of Alexander Ostrovsky as seen in Boris Kustodiev's paintings and they also create the atmosphere of that time by singing some of the traditional old Russian songs. This gives the production an authentic atmosphere, which, combined with vivid acting, helps to deliver the main message of the production that money can't buy happiness. This is the message for all times.