Review: Fathers and Sons by Brian Friel, at the Donmar Warehouse

Anthony Calf as Nikolai, Joshua James as Arkady. Photo Johan Persson

Anthony Calf as Nikolai, Joshua James as Arkady. Photo Johan Persson

In a cunning piece of programming, the Donmar follows James Graham’s Privacy – the most un-Donmar of productions – with Brian Friel’s Fathers and Sons (adapted from the novel of Ivan Turgenev). If Privacy was brilliant in unexpected ways, Fathers and Sons has the emotional richness and acute lyricism that characterise Donmar productions at their best. Let’s be clear: if the Lyndsey Turner directed production doesn’t rewrite the theatrical book, that’s not a criticism in any way.

The story is set in mid 19th century Russia with two young men, Arkady and Bazarov, returning home for the summer. University has opened their eyes to a whole new world and they buzz with the enormity of it all. Back home, they are faced with rich if neglected estates, middle-class ideas, lives preoccupied with the soil, and harvest, and sex. The purity of their idealism is put to the test as the social landscape changes rapidly and irrevocably. The conflict between young and old has the inevitability of a clock ticking but none of the clichés. Don’t assume you know how interactions will play out: Arkady’s father dots on his new baby born out of wedlock. Bazarov’s father idolises his son.

There is a bittersweet, even droll, breeze blowing in the play. Continue reading

Review: Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood, at the Almeida theatre (a Headlong co-production)

Photo Jeff Widener / AP / Press Association Images

Photo Jeff Widener / AP / Press Association Images

From Wikipedia: Chimerica is a neologism coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick describing the symbiotic relationship between China and the United States. In truth, Lucy Kirkwood’s new play, ambitious, incisive and complex, has much in common with the legendary chimera, a creature made with parts from various animals. The play, similarly, wants to be many things (political, character driven, suspenseful, probing the big picture and the tiny details) and in a wondrous deeply moving way it succeeds.

The play spans three decades, starting at a hotel off Tiananmen square in 1989. Three characters take centre stage: an american journalist, a chinese teacher, an english marketing researcher. Colleagues, bosses, relatives, acquaintances, politicians, the authorities swarm around them. At the heart of it a quest,  with press freedom, people’s souls and safety at stake. In fact, this is a story where the stakes are always high: whether it’s friendship, love, morals, livelihoods, nothing is trivialised. There are no perfect choices. Holding onto the moral high ground becomes a sin in its own right. Continue reading