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Larisa and the Merchants

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Although this production of Larisa and the Merchants is its UK premiere, it is in fact an adaptation of a 19th century Russian play by Alexander Ostrovsky. The adaptation itself has been imaginatively handled by Samuel Adamson whose crisp writing reveals a bold, modern commentary on the politics of the marriage market.

Without a dowry Larisa is forced to enter society in search of a husband, but her natural allure means that she is besieged by admirers. After Larisa is rejected by the man she truly desires - the aristocratic Sergei - she accepts the hand of a lowly bureaucrat.

Hardly enamoured of her husband, Larisa is at least relieved to have escaped from the gaze of greedy eyes which the endless list of suitors seemed to present. However, when Sergei returns Larisa is tempted by her old passions but, still feeling thwarted by his previous rejection of her, she struggles to make a difficult decision: to shun her marriage responsibilities and cross the Volga with Sergei.

Drawing clear parallels with today's economic situation, the play also comments on the objectification of women who are treated by the merchants- redolent of modern city boys- as pure commodities to be traded and enjoyed. The sharp social satire is honed by director Jacqui Honess-Martin's strong cast whose performances are filled with wit and intelligence.

The highlight must be Morgan Philpott as Robinson who, as well as providing live music, also presents a striking foil to the character of Larisa and brings an affecting comedy to the production.

As a whole the production must be praised for its creative use of space which has been simply designed by Signe Beckmann with wooden floors and bare brick walls; it is at once austere and yet adventurous in playing on the traverse and using such fluidity of movement.

The overall result of a superbly judged performance and such a cutting social satire is a production which succeeds in conveying a pertinent warning whilst also providing much entertainment.

-Charlotte Pegram


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