A Hero of Our Time at the Arcola Theatre
Russian novels are often highly critical, uncomfortable to read and oozing brilliance from every page. Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time is no exception, and the new stage adaptation of the Princess Mary section of the book by Oliver Bennett and Vladimir Shcherban is so excellent in its execution that it hooks the audience from start to finish, with great prowess from both the writers and actors alike.
The play showcases soldier-on-leave Pechorin (Oliver Bennett) – a character rather similar to the unnamed narrator in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground – who grows bored during his break and competes with Grushnitsky (James Marlowe) for the love of Princess Mary (Scarlett Saunders). The catch? Pechorin has no affection for Mary and just toys with both her and Grushnitsky’s feelings for the sake of having an amusing pastime.
Bennett and Shcherban’s writing is brilliantly translated to the modern stage, with dialogue which is both timeless and contemporary in its use. Throughout the entire production there’s no doubt that this is an adaptation of a Russian novel, and yet it feels fresh and relvant to today’s audience. The excellent portrayal of each complex character is equally important in creating that effect – especially when it comes to Bennett, who not only plays Pechorin but also delivers a first-person narrative from the soldier’s perspective. Despite the amount of dark comedy, many moments feel genuinely moving, sometimes even heart-wrenching. It’s really tough to watch the protagonist not only ruin his friend’s life, but also his own.
That’s not to say that the piece is without its flaws. The last segment feels slightly dragged out and unnecessary; it could just as well end with the previous scene. More importantly, there are several action-laden moments which are performed with great passion, but perhaps with too much ambition – with the characters running around and shouting into the microphone, it occasionally becomes difficult to understand the dialogue and feels overwhelming. No doubt this minor marring detail will be solved when the show has been running for a while.
Even with its imperfections, A Hero of Our Time is an excellent production by a young company which promises a bright future for its cast. With overall pristine acting, witty writing and a hooking plot, this solid drama deserves a strong recommendation. A smashing success from the highly talented HUNCHtheatre group.
A Hero of Our Time is at the Arcola Theatre from 19th November until 15th December 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.