Shukshin’s Stories at the Barbican
Esteemed Moscow-based company Theatre of Nations makes its London debut at the Barbican in the first London run of Shukshin’s Stories, presenting vignettes of 1970s Soviet village life in Russia.
Vasily Shukshin (1929-1974) was a writer, film director, and actor, born in Srostky in the Altai region of Siberia to a peasant family. Inspired by his own experiences, Shukshin presented these intimate worlds of ordinary people in short story collections. A total of eight stories are directed by Alvis Hermanis, the cast portraying many different characters in each of the writer’s tales. There are several threads that thematically link the stories, such as foolishness – as seen in the second story, when a man makes it his primary mission to purchase extravagant white boots for his wife – along with family domestics, work, alcoholism, lust, love, and economic struggle, to name a few. Backdrops depicting large bright images of Shukshin’s town in the present day are set up between each section, offering a visual context to the simple stage set-up of long wooden benches.
As this is a Russian language production, English surtitles are provided, though with multiple errors and delayed at times. For non-native speakers it takes the focus off the stage, since it is essential to read the lines for any sense to be made – a shame, as the Russian-speaking audience seemed to appreciate and enjoy the show much more. Shukshin’s humane wit in the vignettes also goes amiss, as one Belarusian visitor commented that there is a comic value that the translations don’t fully absorb; perhaps this is one of the reasons that many audience members left after the interval. The stories sometimes merge, due to similarities in tone and pacing. But there are some positive elements, particularly the eight-strong ensemble’s range and realistic performances, along with Viktoria Sevryukova’s costume design and some traditional Russian folk singing by the cast – elements which at least feel transporting.
Photos: Sergey Petrov
Shukshin’s Stories is at the Barbican from 7th October until 9th October 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.