Mikhail Lermentov’s novel
Oliver Bennet swaggers around the bare stage with an intensity like no other as the troubled lothario
Pechorin, at first, seems to behave like Lord Byron or any other antihero on a particularly bad day. Oliver Bennet swaggers around the bare stage with an intensity like no other as the troubled lothario. As the story continues, however, we quickly realise that Pechorin has so many vices he is beyond any kind of redeeming qualities. The story is told by him. It is through his warped viewpoint that we are welcomed to his world. The production is deliberately Brechtian in its approach, with the audience often made to feel uncomfortable and the alienation effect is put to good use with the audience constantly being taken out of the action to watch events unfold on the stage without any emotional connections to the characters. Realism is not to be found here.
James Marlowe, as the unwitting friend Grushnitsky, crosses paths with Pechorin and their comradery soon turns to rivalry as they vie to win the heart of Princess Mary. James is more than able to hold his own against Oliver’s powerful performance with the two bouncing off each other very well indeed. James' Grushnitsky has a wonderful charm about him but as this is Pechorin’s show the audience do not know who they should be rooting for.
Scarlett Saunders completes the trio of actors in the dual roles of Princess Mary and Vera. Quickly alternating between the two she makes a very strong debut ably performing as a girl full of innocence and wonder, and a woman who has been betrayed and is full of worldly experience.
A Hero of Our Time is not well-known in England. It is not difficult to see why. At the start of the novel the author has inserted a preface to hit back at its critics. He explains that Pechorin is not meant to have redeemable features and is made up of all vices which are present in men. He states that it not his job to present a moral. Lermontov goes on to write “Suffice it that the disease has been pointed out: how it is to be cured-God alone knows!” The team behind this production have taken a similar approach with putting Pechorin’s story on the stage without any comments, reflections or irony. Performing this show now, against a backdrop of the #MeToo movement I cannot help but feel that a trick was missed here. Some of the creative choices also struck me as a bit bizarre with the most heartfelt monologue delivered at first to the back wall, and the second half in total darkness.
Robert Martland’s exquisite sound design and Alexis Garcia’s barren stage design really make the most of the Arcola Theatre’s studio space transforming it with the mere flip of a rug, pull of a curtain, or disconcerting sound cue.
With the right source material HUNCHtheatre productions will definitely go far. The storytelling style is interesting, and the acting & directing is polished to a very high standard. They are certainly one-to-watch.