Review – White Guard – National Theater


Oh lord. Must I write up a review for this? White Guard was perfectly acted (mostly) and had impeccable set dressings. But it was just all SO BORING. Okay, well, it wasn’t that boring to most of the people there – somehow in a play mostly about civil war (and how damned uncivil it was) there was plenty of room for laughs – the butler helping dress a man escaping from a palace, a young man falling impossibly in love, a room full of people getting drunk and throwing up – yes, there were lots of comedic moments.

And, well, the setting, the bombs exploding were very realistic, and the bunker in which Petlyura’s forces hide is very realistic. But all of this dinner conversation about who is going to rule the country – I didn’t care for it or for the singing! (Actually the singing was very good. But it didn’t make me like the play.) The one woman in the play – Elena Vasilievna Turbin (Justine Mitchell) – is dressed beautifully. But … every time I see a Russian play, I feel like they spend all of their time arguing and none of their time doing anything. Alexei Vasilievich Turbin (Daniel Flynn) almost turned that upside down by DOING something, but everyone else managed to gang up and screw up his big moment.

I can blame some of this on the script, but somehow I feel like this problem of perfect, dry shows is more of a problem of the National. Really, if they’re going to stick to this perfectly realistic style, so perfect for sixth formers trying to get a little bit of culture in, can they please choose scripts like The Voysey Inheritance or Major Barbara, where there is at least some real moral quandaries being discussed on stage? I should have gone to see 4.48 Psychosis at the Barbican instead. I have no idea what the West End Whingers really saw in this show, but, for God’s sake, if you’re not a fan of Russian drama or a National Theater completist, please just go next door and watch London Assurance, which is so much better I can hardly believe I saw them both in the same building. Well, okay, it’s not that much better, but it’s excellent and this play is just flat. I presume the critics are in general going to cream themselves because White Guard is so very much in that realistic English style they seem to eat up, but as for me, I’d have rather spent the evening re-reading Master and Margarita.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010. White Guard continues at the National Theater through June 15th, 2010. Seriously, these were the people in the pretty house that An Inspector Calls was taking to task,and I just felt no sympathy for them as they sat there drinking and singing while people were fighting in the streets. I can’t believe they weren’t all shot at the end of the play. Actually, after reading John Morrison’s review, I’m convinced that it’s the so-called translator who needs to be shot.)

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6 Responses to “Review – White Guard – National Theater”

  1. Andrew (a west end whinger) Says:

    If you ARE a fan of Russian drama you may well not like it either:

    Two five star reviews from the dailies though:

  2. Exit, Pursued by a Bear Says:

    I share your pain. I wasnt feeling well when I went to see this, came home and thought “What in gods good name am I going to write about this pile of trash?” All around me people were laughing like hyenas on Meow and I felt like standing up and shouting “Why are you laughing? This is rubbish!”. And as for the Allo Allo scene – well, it just put the lid on the entire night.

  3. CSM Says:

    I agree. I just got home from tonight’s performance. I’d bet that the telegraph / independent reviewers have good friends at the national by now. The first half completely lacked a motive – why exactly are this family in this play? Well, they’re bourgeois living in the spiritual heart of a disintegrating Russian empire, with Lenin in control in Moscow. Are we told this? No. Do they care? Not particularly it seems.

    The protagonist’s husband deserts her, she takes a new lover, they receive an unexpected guest. Her brother dies after abandoning the cause. These four constituting the whole play. All other characters are filler, and there are twenty one others!

    I left in awe of the generosity of the audience and wishing it had been an hour shorter.

    The sets are perfect. The explosive effects are loud. There’s a decent dinner to be had at the restaurant upstairs. That’s it.

    Read the book instead, go see Jerusalem if you can find a ticket, and take any daily paper’s theatre reviews with a massive dose of cynicism.

    • Dr.j.lee Says:

      Whatever the merits or demerits of the play, and I have yet to see it, why is it you and numerous others are ashamed to use your own names when commenting? You are like children writing rude words on lavatory walls, and indeed the quality of some of the reviews, pro and ante fits this origin.

      • webcowgirl Says:

        I’ll give you a call (since you’ve given me enough information to track you down) and explain to you the benefits of maintaining a certain amount of anonymity online.

        Afterward, I can talk to you about the benefits of maintaining an online web presence, as many of us do. Using a pseudonym (like JK Rowling and George Sands) is not really the equivalent of writing our name on the bathroom walls. But I’m sure the phone call (and possibly a personal visit!) will drive this point home nicely.

  4. Simon Says:

    CSM is absolutely right about the first half – which lacked anything which could possible be described as “drama” because there was no attempt to create the impression of “barbarians at the gate”. It just seemed to be a bunch of tipsy posh people having a dinner party – as if the director thought this was a suburban farce. I sometimes wonder of this is the philosophy of the NT. They think that all their revolting, smug, middle-aged, home-counties audience wants to see is Alan Ayckbourne but they have to provide some variety so they do every play *as if* it’s Alan Ayckbourne. At least this wasn’t as bad as the dreadful “Burnt By the Sun”, but only because at least it was a decent script (though I’m sure Michael Glenny’s translation is better).

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