Saturday, 1 May 2010

The White Guard (by Mikhail Bulgakov, National Theatre)

I should be reviewing two plays today but I'm not because half way through The White Guard- which was one of the best plays I've seen for ages- I got an odd tickle in my throat that over night developed into tonsilitis and led to an exciting adventure of obtaining antibiotics through any means possible and unfortunately missing thursday night's performance of Women Beware Women.
We are fans of Russian plays, well, we are fans of the National Theatre's choice of Russian plays- seen a lot of Chekhov over the last few years at different theatres, I find it all horribly frustrating and sometimes I leave the theatre wanting to stab things. But at the National I have seen Philistines by Gorky and Burnt by the Sun by Nikitia Mikhalkov, granted both contained favourite Rory Kinnear but I've developed a taste for them now and The White Guard might have to be my favourite.
The play is about a family of Tsar loyalists (Tsarists?) in the middle of bloody civil war in the Ukraine. Yeah, they're all fucked.
The set design was astounding, Burnt by the Sun was a whole rotating house and beach, but this production made me wonder just how many miles deep the stage at the Lyttleton really is! A whole appartment with corridors leading to other rooms, a magnificent empty palace, a school gymnasium and a friggin' bombed out bunker! All these sets filled the whole stage! Where the hell did they come from!? It was seriously amazing!
Yeah, the design played a big part in making this play extremely good but the excellent ensemble probably could have carried it without bunkers, explosions and bombs dropping (nearly gave me a friggn' heart attack!), the actors were brilliant. I've seen Conleth Hill in plays before but suddenly as a charismatic love interest I was in agreement with Elena- completely in love with the big charming brute. And Paul Higgins doing his Jamie from in the Thick of It on stage but with so much warmth- just as much swearing but so likeable as a drunken captain. Justine Mitchell as Elena, the woman, such a hard part to play amongst all the men, she was wonderful, she stood out and was so real. Jeez, they were all so real and so was the friggin' war. But hell, it was still so funny! Poignant, laughably so.
I mean, those things have to go hand in hand don't they? If you are capable of understanding tragedy then you must understand comedy. Probably why those two genres are my favourites, and why I so enjoyed this play.

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