by Suhayla El-Bushra, after Erdman
Could Have Been A Contender
Hard as it is to believe now, some idealistic folk chose to live in Soviet Russia moving from Europe to build a socialist utopia. Only for it to end in imprisonment or worse. It's a sombre way to start a review for a comedy from the National Theatre fashioned from a Soviet era satire.
But it also shows the courage, or maybe recklessness, it took for Nikolai Erdman to hatch under these conditions mordant black comedy The Suicide which has now inspired a complete twenty first century revamp by Suhayia El-Bushra.
Stalin's regime banned The Suicide and the playwright himself was arrested and exiled from Moscow - career suicide at the very least. Well, this new updated crammed-full--of-characters play directed by Nadia Fall is unlikely to inflict a similar fate on its writer.
Sam Desai (Javone Prince) dreamed once of becoming a footballer but now veers towards the decidedly chubby and loses his dole money after a missed job centre appointment. Long suffering wife Maya (Rebecca Scroggs) tries to hold things together while they live with her sexually-active mother Sarah (Ashley McGuire) on the Clement Atlee Estate.
Filled with half-hearted despair he equally half-heartedly considers suicide from the top of a building.
He little knows this is being filmed by YouTube-savvy kids who post videos on the internet which quickly go viral.
Enter an array of modern types whose characters are sprinkled with issues and their own agendas: the salaried social worker (Pooky Quesnel) protesting about underfunding and promoting her son (Michael Karim), the local politician (Pal Aron), the bling goddess who wants protection from her boyfriend (Ayesha Antoine), the minted dreadlocked filmmaker (Paul Kaye) with ultra-focussed German sidekick (Lizzie Winkler), the trainee teacher (Tom Robertson) with poetic aspirations and cafe owner(Lisa Jackson) hoping to profit from a last supper.
There's a lot of effort in the production with a backdrop of Ben Stones' multilayered granite set design and some outsize video graphics from Andrzej Goulding. But it all feels a bit scattergun, typified by a Sam-Desai-In-Hell scene suddenly inserted which had the feel of sketch comedy rather than integral to the story.
The characters outweigh the plot and, while there are amusing moments, the story and rhythm of the piece are the losers. It's the kind of play one really wants to like, but seems intent on hoisting its own petard.
As if a number of characters have been plucked from various sources with the story as an afterthought. More pot pourri of (some admittedly very good) ideas than a credible satiric world about to fall off a tower block ledge.
Still, it's fast, frantic and very colourful with some neat expressionist-style design touches, whiplash -type drumming from Sam Jones to ratchet up the tention. And a lot of goodwill from the audience on the evening we went to see the play. An amber light.