Gogol's 'The Portrait'

Attempting to adapt a Russian short story as strange as The Portrait was always going to be a difficult task for The Newbury Youth Theatre. The show follows a demonic portrait as it changes hands and causes the death of everyone who possesses it. The programme was the first sign that this show was going to be unconvincing. The title was brazenly spelt ‘Portyait’ on the cover. Unfortunately, the misuse of the Cyrillic я was only the first misuse in this performance. This is not to say that show is bad. There are some good performances here. The narration of the story is varied and interesting, the set is cluttered and fun and the ensemble-work is polished. The most interesting moments come when the actors play portraits. These freeze-frames are effective and entertaining.Despite this, none of the characters is convincing. Often the players seem simply to be narrating rather than stepping into a true character. It feels like the actors are reading to keep the pace up rather than actually getting involved in their show. On top of this, the variety of set pieces is simply overwhelming. This stops the show from having a central style, causing it to feel schizophrenic and as cluttered as the set. Even worse than these problems is the use of music. Although a lot of the music is well performed by the ensemble, it is handled with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. The actors keep bursting into song for no apparent reason apart from the fact that they were told to. The musical style is massively varied from jazz to a stylistic chant musically backed by guitars and brass. These seemingly random choices of genre add to the increasing sense of confusion that this play presents.This show had a lot of potential, but at the moment it leaves me as white-faced as the actors performing it.

The Blurb

NYT present the tale of a mysterious moneylender and his ghostly painting. Featuring magical storytelling, broken instruments and unspeakable acts. ‘Rambunctious and inventive’ **** (Herald 2010). ‘Excellent’ ***** (ThreeWeeks Editor’s Award 2009). 'Must See' (Stage 2009/2010).