Review – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – National Theatre

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Russian history? Tom Stoppard? And yet you say – only an hour? I was worried that EGBDF would be an unbearably pretentious evening, but assured that I had a sixty five minute window before my chance to exit – to exit permanently for the night – I decided to take the chance. And hey, a Travellex show, so only £10. What’s not to like?

In fact, though it felt much longer than it was, EGBDF did not wear out its welcome. Its conceit, of a man (Julian Bleach) in an asylum who hears a symphony (which is actually on stage) playing constantly, worked fairly well for me. He talked to them, he gave them directions, they underscored his actions and words on stage, it was all fine and fun and just a wee bit over the top but there you have a show at the National with more budget than it knows what to do with. Yes, indeed, EGBDF is known as “that play where there’s a full orchestra on stage,” and fortunately the orchestra (both as creator of sound and collection of people) actually adds to the story instead of just being a sort of very expensive set piece a la the helicopter in Miss Saigon.

But of course since it’s Russia we have to have Grand Sadness, in this case people struggling for freedom against the regime. (Since EGBDF was written in 1974 it was a bit more topical but in this instance the subject now appears very much historical.) This gives us the other character, a man who is sane but is in prison because of his political beliefs (Adrian Schiller). He finds it unbearable to be incarcerated with a genuine lunatic (and a kind of scary one at that), and to make it all the more tragic he has a son who is suffering without his dad there to guide him. A bit of comedy comes in when the patients turn out to both have the same name, not to mention when the prison doctor is revealed to be a violinist. The darkness, however, is almost unrelenting despite the bits of leavening.

The play makes some points about how bizarre the Soviet regime was, emphasized by having the musicians artfully beaten on stage, and proves its legs by providing parallels with the “now,” in which once again we see people can be imprisoned for having “the wrong books” and jailed because their opinions “incite hatred.” How long is it really before we resort to judgments of insanity and verdicts of hard labor for our malcontents? But the play itself is just a short story brought to life, ultimately, and not the best short story at that – it’s hardly “Metamorphosis.” Still, though, it wasn’t a bad night out, and it’s probably good in this age of Russian billionaires to remember how things used to be, and think upon how easily they could be that way again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, January 13th, 2010. It continues through February 17th.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – National Theatre”

  1. TTC Says:

    I found this really interesting last time round. Not that I’ll be running back to catch it again this run but it’s the sort of thing only a place like the National Theatre can manage. Worth pointing out that the Helicopter was Miss Saigon. A helicopter in a traditional Madama Butterfly would be quite a sight (I’ve certainly never heard of a production with one).

    TTC

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