Pravda: a mixed response
ABBI BROWN AND WILF GENEST are impressed by some elements of a play which doesn’t quite meet its full potential.
Bursting enthusiastically onto the stage in a fit of ‘80s pop, slick choreography and a set lined from floor to walls with newspapers, the opening of Pravda inspires its audience with every hope of the ‘dynamic, energetic comedy’ promised in the blurb. Like a Page 3 girl’s ‘political views’, however, first impressions proved transitory in an uneven play marked with inconsistency.
Despite the plethora of characters, the plot is rather simple. A bad guy takes over a few newspapers and does bad things in a typical bad guy sort of way. Written in 1985 by David Hare and Howard Brenton, the play explores satirically the shadow lands which lie between press and politics. As Rupert Murdoch continues to order his minions about and as Rebecca Brooks’ hair continues to grey, the play is as topical as ever.
The stage is dominated by the fantastic Alasdair McNab, who delivered an intense performance as the tyrannical Lambert Le Roux, pendulating between icy threats and eruptions of barking madness, all the while maintaining a convincing South-African accent. Unfortunately, much of his stage time was spent battling against the play’s actual protagonist Andrea May (Kay Dent, McNab’s polar opposite in style and panache).
Pravda boasted over twenty actors, yet the production failed to make the most of this. Sam Knights, for instance, plays four roles, three of them fairly large. All were played competently and with a truly funny exuberance, but, in a play where many scenes are samey, such duplication became confusing and repetitive. Rebecca Cusack, meanwhile, performed a number of cameo parts with her usual stellar aplomb, a talent which deserved more stage time than she was given. Special mention must also go to Alice Carlill, whose refreshing performance as Le Roux’s yappy go-getting side-kick was one of the few truly dynamic elements in the play.
The blaring music which had initially seemed so exciting was never turned down, leaving the multitude of anonymous newspapers vendors struggling and failing to make themselves heard. The set and costumes were fine but nothing spectacular, and a screen which had been erected in the corner of the set remained bizarrely underused throughout. Nonetheless, there were some real comic gems: the Freddie-Mercury-impersonating vacuuming housewife was absurd and hilarious; “Eliot Fruit-Norton is a clown. Mickey Mouse wears an Eliot Fruit-Norton watch” was a wonderful line.
Overall, however, this production felt like the essay of a promising student who spends too much time in Cindies. Average 2.i (though with flashes of first class brilliance). 63%.