Mozart and Don Juan
Published Friday 1 October 2010 at 15:09 by Natalie Woolman
Mozart and Don Juan is a rich display of fresh acting talent - some six of the 11 performers are recent drama school graduates. Yet their canvas, an interpretation of four of Alexander Pushkin’s tragic tales, is feeble in comparison. The actors attack each of the texts with vigour and confidence. Special mention is due to Donovan Ross as Don Juan, who gives a particularly assured performance alongside Andrew Welsh as Leporello and Shinead Byrne. The only disappointment here is the stage fighting - the slaps and swords do not ring true and could be better choreographed.
However, the meditations on honour, which run through all four stories, are not fully drawn out and, as a result, the production as a whole does not gain a thematic coherence. The venue in the Lord Stanley, the new home of Theatre Collection, needs little dressing for the production - the shutters and the corniced room immediately set the scene for tragedy on an autumnal night. With red gels and flickering candles, the lighting is also suitably ghoulish for death and revenge.
A promising new fringe venue in London and a promising new cast suggests Theatre Collection has plenty to offer but, like the sword fighting, this production does not quite hit the mark yet.
Mozart & Don Juan
At the Feast During the Plague
Theatre Collection at The Lord Stanley
When Pushkin Comes to Shove
This production says as much about its director as it does of its artistic ambitions. Victor Sobchak, the driving force behind this brave new venture, is not one to bow to conventional wisdom on just about anything. For a writer/director/actor/teacher who managed to become a guest of the KGB in his native Russia (then the USSR) for bucking the reactionary establishment, a mere funding crisis in the arts in the UK, and an international recession, are no less than a stimulant in his drive towards expressing his worldview through his beloved medium, the theatre.
Mr Sobchak’s brand new theatrical space at the Lord Stanley in Camden Park Road, London N1, is a small miracle of welcoming theatrical intimacy. His brand new company, Theatre Collection, moved in only a matter of hours before the opening night, with the paint literally barely dry. The inaugural performance was by a young, ambitious company, full of the passions they portray, and there is the promise of much more to come in the way of original and unusual offerings.
The theatrical works Mr Sobchak has adapted and developed for his opening production are strangely allegorical of his own life in their examination of desire and self expression. His programme note says it most concisely: ‘The four ‘little tragedies’ combine a Shakespearean grandeur with a more intimate, modern empathy; a Russian soulfulness and irony; and a vision of human fate as a curious dance between choice and chance’.
Memorable moments are to be found in the evening’s drama, with strong ensemble work, committed performances and some rather beautiful singing. Warren Taylor’s Mozart is a refreshingly open and spontaneous creation, instantly engaging ones empathy. For an actor trained in the cinematic medium his stage work was pitch perfect. Shinead Byrne’s Donna Anna was an attractive show of female vulnerability and conflicting passions. The lighting was gentle and the music deeply evocative, bringing texture to every scene. Well, that’s Mozart.
The company and all associated with Theatre Collection from Mr Sobchak and his co-founder, Shaban Arifi, to Adam, the manager of the Lord Stanley, landlords Bob and Amanda, and even ‘our next door neighbour, Brian’, are to be congratulated for daring to believe that while cynical politicians can cut the funding of the arts they can’t choke off the drive to share the work of great artists.
On 2nd October Doubles and Dreamers, ‘An International collection of Symbolist Drama’ opens and runs in tandem with Mozart & Don Juan.
by Alexander Pushkin
directed by Victor Sobchak and Andy McQuade
This classic by the 19th century poet and playwright actually consists of four short plays. Taut, pithy, but nonetheless shocking and powerful and shot through with an urbane, grim humour, these little gems create a macabre world of abnormal passions and gruesome retribution. The Miserly Knight tells the tale of an obsessively greedy old man who gets his come-uppance; Mozart and Salieri explores the popular legend, later also immortalised in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus, that the composer Salieri poisoned his more brilliant musical rival; Don Juan shows the demise of the cocky, callous, bloodthirsty playboy when his arrogance takes him one step too far; while A Feast During The Plague, here used as a framing device, does exactly what it says on the box – depicts a group of spoiled socialites who continue their hedonistic lifestyle amidst national disaster.
The Little Tragedies is not performed in the west as often as it should be, and this production amply captures the dark, off-kilter atmosphere of the texts. Nika Khitrova’s inspired set design utterly transforms the space into a Gothic satin- and candle-drenched salon and draws the audience deep into Pushkin’s decadent world.
The cast work as a tight-knit ensemble and include many superb performances: Scott Christie’s deliciously exaggerated miser and Nicholas Cass-Beggs’s creepy money-lender are larger-than-life caricatures, but perfectly rendered and hugely entertaining, while Geir Kjelland’s tortured, inhibited Salieri is beautifully and movingly played in a quieter, more naturalistic vein. The approach of the production as a whole is vibrant and physical.
This is one of the best pieces of Act Provocateur’s recent work and it is well worth seeing this bracingly acted all-too-rare outing of these miniature masterpieces.