Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Review The March On Russia

Tim Gopsill is drawn into a delicate yet hard-hitting 1980s' drama where family bickering reveals a deeper malaise. 

The March On Russia 
by David Storey

A House Divided

Marital strife is a staple element of drama, both in life and on the stage. In either milieux it can be light-hearted or deadly serious, poignant or embarrassing; it can make us laugh or cry.

In the late David Storey’s 1989 drama The March on Russia, he managed to cover pretty much the gamut in a play that is both surprising and heart-wrenching.

At first the Pasmore couple's bitter discourse makes you laugh with their obviously well-used little digs. Then the laughter becomes more nervous with embarrassment; you start to cringe and by the end you are aching with compassion for this decent, loving couple, wracked in a torture chamber of old age, isolation, claustrophobia and regret.

Ian Gelder's retired coal miner Mr Pasmore aggravates with his mock bowing and scraping at his wife’s supposed bossiness. Sue Wallace's Mrs Pasmore whines at his persistent failure to respect her house proud values.

This grim routine is disrupted by surprise guests on their 60th wedding anniversary. Their three middle-aged children, without telling each other, have all decided independently to visit  their Mum and Dad at the same time.

The occasion for this seemingly contrived, but ultimately satisfying, scenario is the old couple’s diamond wedding anniversary. 

David Storey was a master at drawing intense drama from everyday life. His reputation, revived at his death only six months ago, was made with a  gritty tough-guy drama, This Sporting Life, whereas the March on Russia is as gentle and subtle as you can get.

Yet contained within the countless opportunities for nostalgia, resentment and recriminations, the dialogue  becomes truly painful.

The Orange Tree's in-the-round stage space perfectly suits James Perkins' atmospheric set evoking the couple's Yorkshire bungalow. It maps out their home -  the sitting room with its fireplace, sofa, table and chair, the utilitarian rear kitchen with work top, fridge and sink. The invisible walls between rooms and people become solid and real for us. 

The longer the play goes on, the more frenetically the spaces are used. Yet in Alice Hamilton's sensitively directed production, after all the anguish, you feel the real affection beneath the surface tension.

It's a slow burner and all the more effective for it. The arrival of the siblings is restrained, not to say repressed, before it boils over in a pointless row over an anniversary gift, unleashing hitherto hidden depths of resentment.

Sarah Belcher is the discontented local politican daughter, Wendy, her tongue loosened by drink, speaking her mind. Connie Walker's more conciliatory housewife and mother, Eileen, and Colin Tierney's morose, workaholic academic son, living a life a world away from his working class roots, complete the homecoming.

The March On Russia, we learn, really happened. It's the stuff of a First World War anecdote often recounted by the elderly Pasmore, an eye-opening episode in the otherwise routine life of a working man. It's the only outside subject the couple have to talk about but also a resonant reflection of failed ventures and thwarted lives. 

 David Storey's portrayal of the wounded heart of a family speaks eloquently nearly 30 years after its first production at the National Theatre and more than matches playwrights like Harold Pinter and John Osborne whose works are more frequently revived.

This is a welcome revival and director Hamilton and the fine cast gives it the nuanced green light production it deserves..

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