Astrakhan Winter falls firmly into the category of challenging theatre. Don't expect to just sit back and be entertained - the playwright demands of the audience your full attention, and leaves you to draw your own conclusions on meaning.
Dic Edwards writes for actors - they are given the freedom to express a role through whatever means they see fit, and director James Dacre has exploited this to the full with his rich and atmospheric world premiere production.
The story is complex and takes time to absorb. Walker (Luke Roberts) is a western intellectual, who has a dark history of war crimes. His son, Like (Jay Miller) is a disaffected ex-convict with a tabloid-news mentality. He believes he has all the answers wrapped up in convenient 'isms', when in fact his answers are empty. The refugee, Smerdyakov (Oli Robinson) who is staying with the family tells Luke a fable from his home country which features a mythical tin cross. Luke transforms into a Sméagol-like character in his pursuit of the tin cross, and Smerdyakov comes in for much abuse because of it.
Although Luke would seemingly be nothing like his father, appearances mean nothing and he commits the same misguided sins as the previous generation. Direct comparison can be drawn between the west's continued interference in foreign affairs without really learning any lessons.
This is a multi-layered show, where dissonance exists in the extraordinary atomosphere created through lighting and sound. Tube lighting faces directly at the audience, and the score is distinctly eastern-European folk in nature. Attention to detail is evident, the production aided by the enormous reach of the Cambridge ADC and access to talented young minds eager to experiment in all aspects of theatre.
The score, including some excerpts from tanomic classical music, Shostakovich and Dvorak, is haunting and well placed. Provided by two strings plus a recorded soundtrack, we slip between loud and obvious to vacuums of audio.
A young but talented cast find real depth in the text. In particular, Monique Cornwell as Natashia is a brilliantly focused actress who raises the game of those around her.
Astrakhan Winter will no doubt be a little high-brow for some, and I don't think Cambridge ADC really had any intentions for this to be a mass-market piece. But if you like your theatre to occasionally skip the gags in favour of some difficult questions, Astrkhan Winter is well worth a look.