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.)