Friday, October 06, 2006

REVIEW: The Vacationers (The Gaiety, Dublin)

Maxim Gorky's Summer Folk (on which The Vacationers is based) explores the first flowering of the Russian middle class enjoying the brand new concept of "holidays". Apparently. But for anyone showing up for Omsk State Theatre's Theatre Festival production without that foreknowledge, what exactly is being explored might remain infuriatingly difficult to know.

In a seaside resort, a group of well-to-do families gather for the vacation, a time during which they intend, it seems, to recite pompous poetry, confess undying love, spill their drinks, cheat on their spouses and generally act the maggot. As the summer wears on, a pitch of irritation builds until they are all squabbling with, wrestling and even shooting at their neighbours.

Director, Evgeny Marchelli's vision of how all this might fit into astage production is a faltering one. His main actors mostly play in a naturalistic manner that might have worked perfectly in the original productions of plays by Gorky, or indeed Checkov. But behind them, a whole other troupe of reserves, done up with mime-school- reject facepaint, keep appearing and dancing around on a second stage behind the action. Perhaps, like Chelsea's bench, their presence is supposed to spur the first team on to greater efforts. But the real problem at Omsk State Theatre FC is that the game plan is just too vague.

Billed as a hilarious physical comedy, most of the action was instead verbal, not to mention delivered in a Russian that the projected sur-titles often failed to keep up with, never mind capture. Most of the hilarity came instead from malfunctioning tech. These were so numerous that it was almost impossible to feel anything but sympathy for the actors who had to keep going in the face of emptying seats and growing sniggering from the audience. Everybody deserved better.

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