Tol­stoy re­told

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

The 15-strong cast who play over 70 char­ac­ters are su­perb through­out. But the real achieve­ment here lies in He­len Ed­mund­son’s adap­ta­tion which, since the play first ap­peared in 1996, has been ex­panded into two parts that can be seen on the same day or on con­sec­u­tive evenings.

Ed­mund­son finds her way into the vast­ness of Tol­stoy’s book via a mod­ern-day tourist who ar­rives at St Petersburg’s Her­mitage mu­seum just be­fore clos­ing time. Tol­stoy’s char­ac­ters emerge as ghosts from the aris­to­cratic por­traits, and Meck­ler and Teale use the idea for their pro­duc­tion’s re­cur­ring mo­tif, with much of the ac­tion played out within gilt pic­ture frames.

Where the co-direc­tors fal­ter is with the bat­tle scenes, at one stage in­ad­e­quately con­veyed with the chore­ographed wav­ing of hand­ker­chiefs. But the lu­cid­ity of Ed­mund­son’s adap­ta­tion, the skill with which she threads into her play Tol­stoy’s theme about the mi­rage of an in­di­vid­ual’s free will, makes a daunt­ing six hours fly by. ( Tel: 020 7722 9301) Emma, be very un-Bri­tish. Her job is to help a di­verse group of im­mi­grants pass their Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship test. Their re­ward — a mayor’s hand­shake and the rights of a Bri­tish cit­i­zen.

Mah­mood wants them so he can claim a house in Pak­istan with­out fear of ar­rest; for Tetyana, it means she can es­cape her over­bear­ing Mus­lim hus­band. There are oth­ers, and what­ever their re­li­gion, all have to learn the new of­fi­cial bi­ble called Liv­ing in UK.

Edgar’s nar­ra­tive — well per­formed in Matthew Dun­ster’s Out of Joint pro­duc­tion — is good on the ab­sur­di­ties and anom­alies of defin­ing this na­tion’s cul­ture. But we get lit­tle chance to care about his pro­tag­o­nists’ con­di­tion. Though Jews are cited as early ex­am­ples of im­mi­gra­tion, Edgar seems to have missed a trick in iden­ti­fy­ing how im­mi­grant at­ti­tudes have changed since then. Where once most felt grat­i­tude to­wards their adopted coun­try, many now har­bour re­sent­ment. ( Tel: 020 7328 1000)

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