Sunstroke, an original project developed by Belka Productions, has the dual aims presenting Russian texts to English audiences (the overarching aim of the company) and a new goal of using more physical elements and inventive staging than in previous productions. The latter is achieved brilliantly, with projections facing one another across a sand-covered stage. Sadly, the presentation of the Russian texts, short stories by Chechov and Bunin, misses out on some potential impact in a slow first half, although much is regained in a clever and well-paced denouement.
Katia Elizarova and Oliver King
The production is at its most impressive, however, when the scenes play out at the same time, usually in alternating scenes, with the actors not quite seeing or interacting with each other. The first half details the affairs themselves, from meetings, to consummation, to endings. These sections suffer from a slightly clunky script, especially where the characters are required to be sincere. Much more successful are the lighter moments: Stephen Pucci has fun switching rapidly between playing his primary character, Dmitri Dmitrich, and a dog with, at one point, a bone in its mouth; in Bunin’s story, Oliver King plays a plot point concerning a costume change with enjoyable levity.
An odd yet very enjoyable inclusion is a dancer, Masumi Saito, who opens the play in a kimono to the sound of Japanese music, and returns a number of times throughout. The choreography is beautiful, expressing the themes of the stories whilst adding a female voice that is lacking in the male driven narrative. From a theatre company that wants to create Anglo-Russian cultural exchange, however, it is confusing. The production already marries Russian literature with an English aesthetic; the Japanese cultural influence, however wonderful it is to watch, seems out-of-place.
A second half that explores the effect of the affairs on the lives of the two men works much better. The pace picks up, the links between the stories are cleverly explored, and we are even provided with a link to the dance pieces in the form of a play-within-a-play called ‘The Geisha’.
This brings the material much closer to the level of the excellent set design. Simon Eves’ projected visuals utilise Microsoft’s Kinect and a range of flowing material, from bed sheets, water and smoke to enhance the mood without interfering without upstaging the actors. Most effective were his sheets, twisting themselves slowly and tortuously in a representation of sex.
At the end of an affair it is very rare for either party involved to feel satisfaction. Most commonly, aside from mourning what has passed, you would expect unanswered questions and frustration. Although this production does leave a few unanswered questions, its exploration of the psyches of lovers and ideas of two different writers is enjoyable rather than frustrating, and suggests that future productions by this young company – the next is A Dashing Fellow, a double-bill of Nabokov short stories at The New Diorama Theatre – will be worth investigating.
London Theatre Reviewer
Catch Sunstroke till September 21 at The Platform Theatre, King’s Cross. Book Tickets