MATILDA WNEK takes childish yet well-articulated delight in devised theatre from beyond the Iron Curtain.

ADC Theatre, March 9th-12th, 11pm, £5-£6

Directed by Andrew Brock

[rating:5/5]

Watching Babushka is like watching a music box of the kind I imagine a Russian Tsar might give to the royal grandchild. It is intricately, artistically constructed, unfolds with almost mechanical assuredness, and is as delightful and frivolous as a little spring-wound ballerina.

It is beautifully self-contained; if it weren’t already a cliché I think I might have independently come up with the phrase a ‘gem’ of a production.

The play is only about 45 minutes long, but it feels like just five. The pace, however, is distinctly measured. We meet our heroine, Maria, in a description of her morning routine; her getting dressed is recounted in a simple list of the garments she uses to prepare herself to meet the outside world, and in this sequence we become wonderfully aware of the confidence of the direction: we’re to be led along a course that offers up sequences of theatre for the pleasure of their aesthetic, instead of as instrumental to a later scene or climax.

Because of the process of devised theatre that led up to this production, and the trial and error it involves, we can be more sure than usual that what is eventually shown is something everyone on-stage is proud of, and excited for us to see. The result is a relaxation that is felt from the moment of the gentle dressing of Maria: the character is assembled, cumulatively and impressionistically, rather than constructed for the purpose of narrative development.

Photographs by Rosie Brock

She is kept distinct from the other characters: they communicate directly with the audience, responding to our reactions to refine their comedy, while she remains as unimpeachable and consistent as if she were performing just to herself. She acquires a certain transcendence for it too, becoming the ideal folkloric heroine and so justifying the telling of her story by the playful actors.

The singularity of her motivation, the almost spiritual fixation with a portrait painting, forms the central focus of the piece, reflected in the staging as the set is manipulated around her by the ingenious devices of Andrew Brock’s direction. This singularity is harnessed brilliantly by Sophie Crawford, whose simple movements have intense energy and control behind their gentle pace, and hold our attention unwaveringly.

If anything, sometimes the ‘cleverness’ of the scenes was obstructive. The disjunction between the highly engaged performances of the comic actors – peaking at an expert bit of meta-theatrical comedy by George Potts – and the impenetrability of Sophie’s Maria from behind the fourth wall was often the source of the production’s brilliance, but I felt it prevented any real atmosphere from being created.

When we were told it was hot for example, I was surprised, and I wished there would have been a stronger sense of Russian culture throughout. The live music, which may well have been Russian to my untrained ears, at least was not conspicuously so, and the impressionistic conveyance of character and set was not matched by a general impression of the life of Russian peasantry.

The overwhelming impression was that we were watching a very ingenious piece of theatre, and this was in part a feature of the implication of the audience in the actors’ management of Maria’s story. An atmosphere required a stronger sense of common style between the other actors that might have put some distance between them and us.

Aesthetically, there is much to appreciate here. The lighting in particular is used to great effect, with precise spotlights foregrounding aspects of the stage to create a highly dynamic visual. The eerie, empty papier-mâché  frames were a neat metaphor for the set in general – gaps left by the set make the limiting factor the extent of the audience’s imagination. And the production continually calls upon this faculty, in what can only be described as a playful delight in the very medium of theatre.

  • http://dawidominos David Domincki

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  • Huw Owen

    What on earth makes you think that’s an appropriate lead paragraph? Do you really think you should start a story all about violence against women with some jokey puns about violence against women?

    Puns are great but let’s not joke about Claire being the victim of violence.

  • Question

    I don’t think that was the bad call per-se, but I thought the Student Union Officers are supposed to represent students?

    If FemSoc themselves, the largest and most notably vocal group when it comes to those issues, has decided against cancelling, who are you even representing at this point? The greater good?

  • Jacob

    The Union is supposed to be a safe place that represents all students, it’s a very good place to watch a sporting event in a safe environment capable of holding VERY large numbers of people. Cancelling the boxing about an hour before it began through a single sentence, based on the letter of one individual, meant I had to go into town, get into a crush loaded Inn On which had a 1 in 1 out policy because of the number of people and stand next to actual Neo-Nazis who kept knocking pints on people including myself and screaming.

    Had the Union made this decision say, a week before, explained it and asked for further opinions from the student body then it wouldn’t have been so bad but giving into these demands on the night without any consultation is spineless of them, and then leaving femsoc in the lurch by not releasing a statement there and then explaining it just makes it worse, how are societies supposed to trust the union if it’s going to do that to them.

    Also those puns are terrible.

  • FeminazisMustDie

    Feminist scum.

    • Hmm

      1. Use the term Nazi as an insult.
      2. State that a group of people should all die for their beliefs.

      Nicee.

  • DC

    “preferred the idea of holding a bake-sale” way to break stereotypes of women in kitchens.

  • TRUTH

    This just annoys me.

    Obviously violence against women is wrong, violence against anyone is wrong. But just because you watch and enjoy Floyd’s fights doesn’t mean you agree with what he has done in his past.
    And if he has gone through the justice system and been adequately punished in the eyes of the law then we shouldn’t judge him for the rest of his life.

    It is this sort of knee-jerk, highly emotional, highly illogical stance that we see present in so many issues in our society that causes people to think of feminism as nothing more than a joke.

  • Roy

    I’ve had enough it’s time for action. Boys get together the summer ball objectifies our testicals lets get it Changed to the summer ovary!

  • Jonno

    Feminism – promoting free speech (as long as it doesn’t offend them). If it does, then they’ll censor it. What a shame – a movement that was once about basic human rights has turned into a cult-like ideology based on self-importance. “Our view is right, therefore we’ll impose it”. Do you honestly think this ‘legitimises’ domestic violence? Piss off you arrogant, self-indulged dickheads.

  • Beedot

    Was there a time machine in the SU? The fight started at about 4am so how could they be scheduled to watch it at 10pm?

  • Jinx

    This was a ridiculous decision, even those who care about Mayweather’s past should recognise that.

    It was an act of censorship, people who did not intend to watch the match made sure that others couldn’t either, or at least made it more difficult for them.

    The notion of the Union being a “safe space” is irrelevant in this situation, as there was nothing unsafe about showing the event, as the Union has done with many sporting events previously. What Mayweather has done in the past, I would agree, was disgusting but it has no impact on the event, it is in the past, he went to prison over it, and no special attention would be drawn to his actions during the event. Showing the event has no more to do with condoning Mayweather’s actions than cancelling the even would condemn Pacquiao’s charity work.
    The Union gained nothing by refusing to show the match, it went ahead regardless. Raising awareness was not the intention of refusing to show the event, and even if it had been there were far better ways of doing so, posters and bake sales would make the people at the event far more receptive to the issue than cancelling and aggravating them.

    Anyone who might be offended that Mayweather still has a career is welcome to be offended but nothing about refusing to show his fights changes that. If the concern was that somehow some students would be offended or upset, I’d point out that those people would not watch the match in the first place, and would not have been in the Union that night. Again, this was people who didn’t intend to watch the match ensuring that others couldn’t- censorship.

    Personally, I feel on matters such as these, the Union should remain impartial, showing the event and allowing students to protest or raise awareness as they see fit. Failing that a vote should have been held, and in this case, I am positive the event would have been shown as planned.

    To see examples of a Student’s Union that does not represent it’s students, and allows a few people to decide what is good for everyone, I suggest you read the articles on Goldsmith’s University, here on The Tab. I sincerely hope our Union does not go the same way.

  • psychosaurus

    The union will not be considered a safe space – nor a space which respects equality until there is a position for mens officer too. This bullshit leftist dictatorial approach needs to be wiped off that institution along with Claire Herbert who thinks that she has some special privilege to lobby for decisions on behalf of all students.