IT was more a question of ‘Bon Voyage’ than ‘Au Revoir’ as the HUNCHtheatre company bade a temporary farewell to these glorious shores with a two-night ‘special’ of A Hero Of Our Time in London’s swanky Soho. A mighty send-off it was from this embryonic but dynamic theatre group.
The play, based on the nineteenth century masterpiece by Mikhail Lermontov of the same title, has already enjoyed great success – most notably at the Arcola Theatre in East London (read our review).
But Vladimir Sheherban and Oliver Bennett, founders of HUNCHtheatre, are now taking the play to Russia (St Petersburg) and Germany (Cologne, amongst other venues). It is all part of the company’s desire to create theatre devoid of barricades – be they cultural, linguistic, political or bureaucratic.
The fact that the two-night special (May 22 and May 23) was performed in the basement of the trendy Karma Sanctum Soho Hotel reinforces one of the company’s messages – that theatre can and should be performed anywhere.
The room’s compactness, together with warm inviting carpets, a bar at one end and trendy lighting becoming of a boutique hotel, did little to detract or distract from the play’s fun – and underlying madness.
At its heart is Pechorin (played with terrific energy by Bennett) – a soldier resting between wars. To say he is a difficult person is an understatement. He’s as complex as an algebraic equation and enjoys nothing more than heaping misery on those who think they are close to him. All that war has got to him, it seems.
His targets are ‘friend’ Grushnitsky (Tim Delap), a lanky war colleague, and Princess Mary (Florence Roberts), a quite beautiful and attractive woman of good breeding and sound wealth. He meets them while resting up in a spa town where time goes by far too slowly for Pechorin’s comfort.
Grushnitsky, a little awkward on the social front, falls head over heels in love with the princess and Pechorin promises to help him in his courtship. But Pechorin is a man of many shades and instead takes great pleasure at wrecking any chance of a relationship forming between them by courting Princess Mary behind his friend’s back. He’s as treacherous as a stormy sea and dangerous as an antagonised rattlesnake.
It all ends horribly as Grushnitsky and Pechorin are drawn into a pistols at dawn duel where there can only be one winner. ‘I hate you,’ snarls a bedraggled Princess Mary at Pechorin at the end, wearing a bandage around her left wrist. I’m not surprised. Pechorin is detestable.
While the tale is fabulously entertaining, what stands A Hero Of Our Time apart from the madding crowd is the way in which the story is imaginatively told – often from a standing microphone at one end of the room.
There is improvisation and surprises galore – a video of Princess Mary lip-synching Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, a little bit of the Righteous Brothers (You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’) and at various stages the three main characters all galloping away furiously from one crisis or another on imaginary horses holding no more than a horizontal stick and making the clip-clopping sounds of running hoofs. Effective.
We also have Bennett playing Pechorin’s confidante – a doctor – by holding a copy of Lermontov’s novel in front of his face. Meanwhile, Roberts doubles up as Vera (face mole and all), a lover of Pechorin’s who is dying from consumption. Despite marrying for a second time, Vera – for some strange reason – seems infatuated by Pechorin. If it wasn’t for her illness, psychiatric help would surely be a must.
Although this is very much Bennett’s play, Roberts and Delap (who replace Scarlett Saunders and James Marlowe from the Arcola production) do more than their bit to add to the whole.
With frenetic Mazurka dancing galore and lemons being bitten into and then spat out onto a mirror, A Hero Of Our Time is entertainingly bizarre. As much fun as an uproarious night out in Soho.
Those reading this review on Wednesday May 23 may still be able to grab a ticket for tonight’s performance (8 o’clock). You will not be disappointed.