Wednesday, 22 March 2006

Leningrad Siege at the Wiltons

I had an emergency theatrical evening last night. I have been very bad lately with all things cultural so this was a welcome offer. During the afternoon, Ravi emailed me to offer me theatre ticket he could not use. I quickly ditched Slightly, who I was supposed to meet that evening (he actually refuse to join me although the evening had some relevance to his interests).

The ticket was for The Leningrad Siege. The story of two dotty aging pasionarias who have lived in a crumbling theatre for the past twenty years following the suspicious death of their erstwhile husband and lover, Nestor, the revolutionary director. This is the English premiere of the play by spanish playwright, José Sanchis Sinisterra.

What really swayed my decision, however, was the venue where the play is being performed. The Wiltons Music Hall "is the world's oldest surviving grand music hall". Hidden in the East End of London, near St Katharine's Docks, it had hit my consciousness when it appeared on the BBC's Restoration programme, but had promplty sunk back into the darkest recesses of my mind. The place has also been used in several films including Tipping the Velvet and Interview with a Vampire. The venue did not disappoint. Built in the 1850's, it is a very atmospheric, dilapidated old place which summons up images of decadent parties with cancels and red velvet.

It also happened to be the ideal setting for the play. The ruined theatre of the play is almost a character in itself and to be actually seated in a ruined theatre added a lot of strength to the experience. The play being about the communist ideal and subversive theatre, it would have been interested to include this iconoclatic element to the form of the performance itself by bringing the two actresses more in contact with the audience and off the stage. Perhaps also by forcing the audience not to sit in rows but to mill about as required by the action. I concede that this would probably have meant resetting the whole show which has otherwise been touring in other, no doubt more conventional, venues.

This was probably the most interesting element of the show. The direction was rather uninspired, the performances of good quality but probably not outstanding. As for the play, it was confusing in its meanings. A very large part of what was obviously supposed to be funny in the dialogues fell flat on its nose and we did not seem to warm or relate to the two characters which could probably be quite lovable. Perhaps after all the "presence" of the theatre was too overpowering for what felt to be a weak production.

In the end an interesting experience which made me want to see Shunt produce their own take of Theatre of Blood in that venue. One can dream.

The Leningrad Siege
Directed by Mark Rosenblatt
Wilton's Music Hall
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Until 25 March

The Financial Times' review.
The Evening Standard's review.
Teh Stage's review.

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