Pechorin is a superfluous man. He has it all, yet seemingly has nothing. He's witty, smart and sensitive, yet also utterly manipulative and verging on sociopathic. He's the selfish, bored protagonist of Mikhail Lermontov's Russian classic A Hero Of Our Time, played with ferocity and bravery by the endlessly watchable Oliver Bennett.
A powerful, sweaty and ingenious piece of theatre.
This production of a neglected classic is presented by HUNCHtheatre, a new company founded by long-term collaborators Vladimir Shcherban (award winning director of the Belarus Free Theatre), and Bennett. Their mission is to bring high quality art to both theatrical and non theatrical spaces, with initial versions of this piece being performed in Shcherban's living room and a basement lounge of a Soho hotel.
The staging is disarming, with the audience lined up on either side of the small, claustrophobic Studio 2 at C Royale on George Street. As we enter the space, Bennett is sat on a stool in a military coat and sunglasses, staring into a huge mirror on an easel at the end of the room. This thin tract of stage is the setting for what turns out to be a powerful, sweaty and ingenious piece of theatre.
Shcherban and Bennett are a strong director/writer combo. Their use of the space is playful, and the images they build over and over again lead to moments of real beauty. The scenes come thick and fast, from languishing in a rich spa town, to riding through the Caucuses on horseback and a royal ball. The performers transform the space with a glorious fluidity and dexterity.
James Marlowe as Grushnitsky is an excellent foil to Bennett's Pechorin as their friendship slowly crumbles to the whims of Pechorin's manipulations. A frantic dancing scene with Princess Mary (Anastasia Zinovieva) is particularly affecting, and Marlowe portrays Grushnitsky's decline into desperation with skill and conviction.
It's the female characters who failed to grab me in this adaptation. Zinovieva plays both Vera and Mary, the former an old flame of Pechorin's, and the latter a listless aristocrat. Unfortunately her accent and projection got in the way of many of her lines and I often genuinely struggled to understand what she was saying. Perhaps this was intentional, and the female characters in the piece are intended to be vague pawns in the games that men play. If so, then I'd have loved a little more explicit exploration of this.
The producers describe this as "an examination of the Byronic hero in our age of gender war". It felt much more like a strong adaptation of a classic text, but still very much stuck in the morality and themes of 1840's Russia. Again, perhaps this is a statement on how nothing much has changed in 180 years, and that women are still subject to the whims of superfluous men with their ego-driven games and careless cruelty.