The Harvest at Soho
Apples, crates, vodka and not much more – but perhaps this is the point of Pavel Pryazkho’s The Harvest. Making its London debut after a successful run in Bath, the Belarussian’s absurdist comedy is somewhat lacking in comedic essence and body, yet the Beckettian condition of Pryazkho’s four characters remains a poignant sight. As the quartet of Russian workers – Egor, Valerii, Ira and Lyuba – attempt to harvest their gigantic stock of apples, problem after problem is beset upon them and they are increasingly unable to complete their seemingly simple task, allowing satirical allusions to the bleak life of post-Soviet Russia to be subtly introduced.
The audience is immediately struck, upon sitting down by a bizarre set. Hundreds of apples hang by ropes from the ceiling, while several ladders reach upwards between the dangling fruit without ever quite seeming to finish, as though providing a never-ending escape route from the astroturf floor. This striking set is just one part of an impressive technical quality to the production: props are managed well during several dangerously botchable moments – two thumbs are bloodied during hammer and nail incidents, but this is deliberate – and the occasional slapstick kerfuffle is neatly choreographed.
It’s a shame, then, that this sharpness of direction and production overseen by Sir Michael Boyd is let down slightly by a script that struggles to be something that it’s not. Pryazkho’s attempts to create a constantly pithy and quick-witted dialogue are possibly slightly lost in translation, resulting in an unslick mush of only half-amusing comments. Likewise, the hilarity of the four young Russians’ apple-related mishaps quickly fades, with the story seriously clutching at straws with regards to how a new problem might obstruct their harvest. There are only so many times one can laugh at the collapse of a wooden crate.
Remove this weak veil of comedy, though, and the play becomes a fascinating theatrical exploration of the desolate life of a worker in contemporary Russia. Panicked references to “they” and “them” create a Godot-like figure of oppressive off-stage authority, and the gradual breakdown of the harvesters’ state of physical and mental health due to their inability to complete their task is at times a wonderfully excruciating sight. A great comedy this is not, but The Harvest is nonetheless an absorbingly intimate analysis of the futility of post-Soviet existence.
The Harvest is on at Soho Theatre until 13th June 2015, for further information or to book visit here.