For the UK premiere of Sofi Oksanen's Purge, the audience is seated unnervingly close to a small thrust stage set as a rustic Estonian cottage. With its apparent ordinariness, this clever design by Rosemary Flegg creates an appropriately oppressive sense of fear and threat, reflecting the play's dark and unsettling central themes.
Aliide Truu (Illona Linthwaite) sits in the isolated family home where she has lived her whole life when her world is invaded by a young Russian girl, Zara (Elicia Daly), who is on the run from the Mafiosi who have been pimping and abusing her. At first suspicious that the girl might be a spy sent by local thugs to "case" the cottage, Aliide comes to recognise some of her own history in the girl's story.
Brilliantly interspersing the post-war narrative with the more recent, Aliide's past and present criss-cross, her help for Zara bringing up the torments and tortures of her own life. Love and betrayal, trust, the lengths people will go to protect those they love - these are the intimate themes which sit within the wider story of the oppression of a nation.
When one repressive regime is overthrown, it just brings a different set of oppressors, using the same vicious methods of torture and corruption to gain power, money and status. Even so, the situation is not without hope. There is still the possibility that an act of kindness can save a soul but not without self-sacrifice.
Linthwaite is remarkably convincing as the older Aliide, giving a multi-layered portrayal of a woman whose motives are never less than complex. This nuance is echoed in Rebecca Todd's young Aliide, in love with her brother-in-law, Hans (Kris Gummerus) but forced by circumstance to marry the aparatchik, Martin (Johnny Vivash).
As Zara, Daly presents the vulnerability of an abused girl who has gained the strength to escape a life of slavery. By contrast, the role of Pasha, played with loud physicality by Benjamin Way, is little more than a caricature of a Russian mafia thug while his quieter colleague Lavrenti (Liam Thomas) lacks definition other than through a love of blue-eyed women.
Elgiva Field's direction is strong and sure, with Purge presenting an enlightening and thought-provoking exploration of the role of the individual in a repressive society as well as giving us an important insight into Estonia's recent history.
- Carole Gordon