Sophie Russell & Darrell D'Silva
25 September 2009 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews The Drunks marks the opening salvo of Revolutions, a project which the Royal Shakespeare Company describes as its “four year celebration and exploration of theatre in Russia and the former Soviet Union”, but this commission from the Durnenkov Brothers doesn’t exactly get things off to the most auspicious of starts. The play feels like a conscious variation on Gogol’s The Government Inspector, except here, the prodigal figure is one of the unnamed town’s own sons, injured and shell-shocked and back from fighting on the frontline in Chechnya.
Ilya, played by [Jonjo O’Neill], becomes the unwitting pawn in a grimly comic game of political one-upmanship, whilst trying to make sense of his own place in a world which seems to have moved on in his absence and changed beyond recognition. His wife Natasha has shacked up with another man and told his son that he is dead; former schoolmates Sergei and Kostya have respectively become a frightened journalist and a transsexual mayoral aide. Even his old schoolroom has become derelict and overgrown with ivy.
This sounds like the stuff of hard-edged political drama, and perhaps this is what the play may once have been, but between them,
Anthony Neilson’s direction and Nina Raine’s script have transformed The Drunks into a rambunctious comedy, in which Ilya’s personal odyssey has been relegated to the status of a rather melodramatic sub-plot - a fact underscored by the curious decision to have O’Neill as the only performer to speak consistently in anything approaching a Russian accent.
Instead, attention (and directorial interest) seems to have been focused on the comic potential surrounding
Brian Doherty’s monstrous Mayor and Darrell D'Silva’s weaponry-obsessed Chief of Police, both of them hard drinkers and profuse swearers, who are the lynchpins in a parade of scenes tricked out with moments of somewhat heavy-handed comedy.
Arguably, though, it is precisely this which redeems
The Drunks, and as gratuitous as these moments often feel, it would take a hard heart not to laugh at some of the ludicrously absurd situations Neilson orchestrates: the magnificent murder of songs by Motorhead, Tammy Wynette and the B52s in a seedy vodka bar; a dignified lady in the audience nervously pressed into waving a Russian flag at Ilya’s homecoming parade; and D’Silva talking to his precious broadsword named Delilah, which speaks to him in delightful quivering music played on a saw by Jeff Moore.
It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the writers’ Russian provenance has secured the development and presentation of a play which would never have seen the light of day if it had been the work of a British hand. The audience comes away little informed on the vagaries of Russian small-town politics, or anything else Russian for that matter, so in some sense, the enterprise must be deemed to have failed - but the guilty pleasure of a Russian-inflected riff on the final scene of
Dirty Dancing will linger long in the mind.
- Philip Holyman
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
X Factor musical titled I Can't Sing!, opens Palladium March 2014 The forthcoming X Factor musical will be called I Can't Sing! The Musical and will premiere at the L... Tanzi Libre First things first, it's great to see the Southwark Playhouse open again. Set halfway down New... Clint Eastwood on board to direct Jersey Boys film? Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood has reportedly been signed up to direct the film version of Jersey B... Michael Coveney: Big Apple bites and Manhattan memories You should always do new things in familiar cities. Over the past few days in New York, I walked a... Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p... : Kendal & co in Podcast Relatively Speaking Q&A Last night (21 May 2013), 140 Whatsonstage.com theatregoers attended Relatively Speaking at the West... Kimberley Walsh & Denise Van Outen toast Tointon in 1st Night Photos: Relatively Speaking Strictly Come Dancing stars Kimberley Walsh, Denise Van Outen and Artem Chigvintsev toasted former S... ATG acquires Broadway's largest theatre The Foxwoods, home of Spider-Man In another significant step for transatlantic theatre relations, the UK’s biggest theatre ... Sheila Hancock shows wild side in Video: Barking in Essex trailer As this new trailer reveals, Sheila Hancock has had a dramatic TOWIE-style makeover for her forthcom... : Critics convinced by Review Round-up Relatively Speaking? Lindsay Posner's revival of Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking opened at the Wyndham's Theatre las...