Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Burnt By The Sun

Up to the National yesterday evening to see the Burnt By The Sun. A stage adaptation of the 1994 Oscar Winning film, adapted with fizz and crackle by master playwright Peter Flannery.
The action is set over one balmy summer day in a dacha on the outskirts of Moscow in 1936 where Kotov, a Bolshevik general of peasant stock and personal friend of Comrade Stalin is reacquainted with and betrayed by Mitia, an intellectual who has returned to the USSR to seek the fragments of the Fin de Siecle culture he once held so dear. As the play unravels it becomes clear that Mitia's sudden disappearance twelve years early was not an escape but a sentence, delivered with Kotov's active approval, to work in counter espionage in Italy and France. It is the start of the purges and after a Chekhovian opening of beautifully played misunderstandings and half expressed emotions, the play shifts into a knife edge thriller, leaving the audience trying to work out who Stalin's man really is?

Compounding the intrigue further is the captivating Maroussia, who quickly became Kotov's child bride once Mitia had disappeared. Her pain at her former lover's return is tenderly captured by Michelle Dockery. When Mitia suggests to Kotov that those who fly too high will always be burnt by the sun - it's unsure whether he's talking about Kotov's own subversive activity or his attraction to Maroussia.

At the heart of the production are two incredible performances. Ciaran Hinds brings intensity and fury to the role of Kotov. It's a huge physical portrayal that almost blows you out of your seat; whilst Rory Kinnear's Mitia is a perfect study of controlled bitterness and neurotic regret. As he did in Philistines, his previous Lyttelton show, Kinnear demonstrates a magnetic ability to speak softly and pull the audience towards him. The contrast between the players couldn't be greater, but makes for a irresistible dynamic and despite the obvious clash of style they are both sensitive enough to inhabit the same stage universe. It's edge of your seat stuff from beginning to end.

I left the theatre breathless, happy and slightly awed at the technical brilliance of the acting.

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