Life and Fate at Theatre Royal Haymarket
Life and Fate is a masterclass in the dramatic arts. Theatre Royal Haymarket have taken something of a risk in putting on a play over three hours long that is performed entirely in Russian. Adapted from a work of the same name by Soviet author Vasily Grossman, it follows the intertwined lives of the Shtrums and their acquaintances. As Jews in Stalin’s Russia, the family struggle for integrity and identity as citizens and individuals in an age of extremes.
Lev Dodin’s adaptation of the novel is majestic. Split in two, the set shifts from Gulag to ghetto to Moscow apartment without missing a beat. Prisoners sit on stage as life goes on and suffering is always in the backdrop. This highly textured staging never shies away from complexity as erotic ecstasy melds with the iron fist of Nazi and Soviet rule. There is no better language for this than Russian, of course, and the surtitles that flank the stage don’t detract from the Slavonic richness and metallic tone.
This is an astonishing epic, and as the action flows between settings and people, there is no loose link in the ensemble. A production like this relies on the capabilities of each individual and the company as a whole, and in this respect, it is a resounding success. Strong independent performances come from Sergey Kuryshev as Viktor Shtrum and Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Zhenya. Kuryshev captivates heart and soul, whether dancing and singing flamboyantly in Yiddish or standing silently as he contemplates his morals.
Life and Fate approaches absolute perfection as a piece of drama. It is exquisitely refined. One’s first instinct is to compare it to cinema or literature in its astounding scope, but if anything it proves that theatre too is capable of achieving this. It deserves the highest praise as a piece of theatre, but it is above all an education in humanity.
Photo: Maly Drama Theatre
Life and Fate is at Theatre Royal Haymarket from 8th May until 20th May 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.