The National Theatre was inconsistent again this year but Strange Interlude and Children of the Sun were superb. When I reviewed Othello, I wrote, “I feel pretty certain I’ve just seen the winner(s) of the next Olivier for Best Actor.” It’s too early for the Oliviers but Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester deservedly shared the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor. The Young Vic shone with A Doll’s House (a strong runner up which I saw in the West End) and Public Enemy. The Old Vic didn’t have any productions that grabbed me until the excellent Fortune’s Fool right at the end of the year which I also strongly recommend. I also enjoyed One Man, Two Guvnors but the West End was otherwise a little disappointing this year.
How wonderful to see such a well-crafted play resurrected. I’ve seen an awful lot of pantomime lately – great fun for children but not worth reviewing here – and there seems little else around, so this is particularly welcome. It is unfair to compare this with Chekov as one or two reviewers have. This was written two generations earlier before the emancipation of the serfs. It was a time when the wealth of a “gentleman” was measured in the number of serfs he owned (serfs he could buy, sell, mortgage and abuse in any manner he liked) and the play is very much about what a real “gentleman” is. The four main parts are acted superbly: the very rich, brutish gentleman; the penniless gentleman he bullies, who lives on the charity of others but would never dream of demeaning himself by taking a job; the lady who has inherited the estate, and the young gentleman she has just married who is part of a new generation of “gentleman.” He does have a job and actually cares whether the serfs he has inherited through marriage have access to doctors, teachers and “spiritual guidance.” The play brilliantly morphs from comedy to tragedy and back and provides a fascinating insight into mid 19th Century Russian society backed up by the excellent programme.