To See Salisbury at the Playground Theatre
Can anyone imagine if the Skripal poisoning story was depicted from the perspective of the suspects Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov in the darkly humorous style of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead? Acclaimed Russian satirist Victor Shenderovich can, as it’s the premise of his new play To See Salisbury. Somehow, his wickedly funny take on the infamous story totally works.
The production offers a fiendishly inventive interpretation of the events around the duo who supposedly came to Salisbury to see the Cathedral. The show is primarily concerned with the existentialist crises faced by the bewildered pair, who are suggested to be in a closeted relationship. Taking place immediately after the Novichok attack, Boshirov (James Marlowe) and Petrov (Oliver Bennett) are on high alert, not knowing why their pictures are appearing in global media and not even realising that they may have committed a crime.
The pair are accosted by their senior Skvortsov (Nick Boulton) aka Mr Starling – which sounds hilariously similar to Stalin – who delivers a raging chastisement of their failure to have downed the actual target, whoever that may be. In one of the many creasing exchanges in the intelligently written script, Skvortsov asks Boshirov if he wants to atone for his mistakes with his blood, to which Boshirov responds yes, but with “somebody else’s blood, if possible”.
The character of Dementia Peterovna, personified as Mother Russia in the flesh, is adeptly performed by Alexia Mankovskaya with a strong musicality (though, occasionally too much, to the extent it’s difficult to comprehend her). The actor deftly portrays an omnipresence that functions in a chicken-and-egg way, her character influencing the individuals she governs over, guiding but also affected by the self-examination of their identities as they search for the answers to the fundamental questions of “Who are you?” and “Who am I?”
Director Vladimir Shcherban complements the imaginative narrative elements and dialogue with great performances and the brilliantly effective use of a screen, which is inventively used in multiple ways, serving as an environmental backdrop, a spy camera, a television, a presentation, to mention a few. On-screen visuals adapt to smartly enhance current scenarios and to also work as an independent storytelling tool. Ultimately, the screen undertakes a meaning beyond its basic relevance as the device through which we know the real story. It’s a shame that To See Salisbury runs for just one weekend: Its side-splitting, surrealist splatter on the Novichok chronicle deserves to be beholden by many.
To See Salisbury is at the Playground Theatre from 30th March until 31st March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.