Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Pushkin: Queen of Spades - Fusebox Productions at Arcola Theatre

Previous posts have discussed the making of literature accessible to the visually impaired and the effort that makes a visit to the theatre so much more enjoyable than listening to an audio book.  The current row over the new Kindle’s lack of text to speech facility can make one go into “Sour Grapes” mode.  While I have enjoyed some of the RNIB Talking Books containing Russian literature, the drama can be very hard work so an accessible performance can be a real treat.  I have posted on Chekhov at the National Theatre where I saw The Cherry Orchard and the Arcola Theatre where I saw the Sea Gull.  On Twitter, I found out that Fusebox Productions ( http://fuseboxproductions.org/ )  were doing Pushkin’s Queen of Spades at the Arcola Theatre.  (http://www.arcolatheatre.com/)

In 1975 I visited the Pushkin Estate which is to the south of Pskov.  Pskov had been a restricted city of the Soviet Union and I was part of a joint British Council and National Union of Students group to visit Moscow, Leningrad (St Petersburg) and Pskov.  At that time tourists were a novelty in Pskov and we were very well treated.  My visit to the Pushkin Estate gave me an interest in some Russian literature and the other works which they inspired.  (http://pskovgo.narod.ru/city_tours.htm ,  http://www.russia-ic.com/regions/1764/sights/17/ )

Pushkin’s story about the Queen of Spades was transformed into an opera of the same name by Tchaikovsky.  This opera was recently reviewed on BBC Radio3 in the CD Review in Building a Library.  Interestingly the opera performance rated most highly was an old 1950s recording on reissue with all of Tchaikovsky (60 CDs) by Brilliant Classics.

Fusebox Theatre has worked the story into a drama with 3 actors in 80 minutes using rhyming couplets, a lot of movement and a lot of “visual”.  This latter point did not put me off as the words express the whole story and there is enough commentary to keep the story going. 

The theme of the story is betting, putting everything on the turn of a card and a coin.  Avarice and greed just about sum it up and this production is as relevant to today’s financial woes and the bankers using funds as casino chips and so called financial instruments being no better than the old “Three card trick”. Games of cards are often covered in novels and other fiction.  E. F. Benson has Miss Mapp losing at bridge, Fleming has James Bond playing Baccarat in Casino Royale, Agatha Christie has Poirot working a murder mystery after a game of bridge and Aunt Dahlia was always losing her shirt in the Wodehouse stories. 

Benjamin Way carries most of the back story, giving an energetic performance and letting the script tease out what humour there is naturally.  This is no hammy performance.  The roles of Countess and skivvy were also well played and all three have to handle the props.  I probably missed a few of the visual gags, though I think the lady to my left found the performance more hilarious than many of the audience.  My peripheral vision picked quite a lot of the stage action and I found my White Stick useful in “examining” the discarded cards at the very end.  Herman had the 3, the 7 but did he get the Ace? Go “see” it!

Note: For more information on Pushkin, contact Pushkin House in London at http://www.pushkinhouse.org/en