By Gordon Parsons in England:
The Swan Theatre Stratford-Upon-Avon
Sunday 09 December 2012
It is not surprising that this rarely performed 19th-century Russian classic is better known from Mussorgsky’s opera than from Pushkin’s original play.
The force of its reputedly magnificent poetry is necessarily lost while, for all its conscious echoes of Shakespeare’s histories, this epic tale of power politics in 17th-century Russia has a grand, static quality short on the shades of light and dark characteristic of its model.
Not that Michael Boyd’s direction of Adrian Mitchell‘s adaptation lacks energy and even an element of slapstick comedy. The two-hour, straight-through production never flags and, despite its dependence on declamatory rhetoric rather than theatrical action, holds the audience’s attention throughout.
Two-thirds of the way through Tom Piper’s designs change from traditional to modern costume, although we need no reminder of Putin to recognise the play’s modern affinities with Boris Godunov’s calculated and ruthless rise to the tsardom. In the process, Richard III-like, he has the legitimate young heir murdered. Depending on Machiavellian courtiers and a servile and fickle serfdom, he is never free from the insecurities founded on guilt.
When a restless young novice monk decides to take on the identity of the murdered princeling, apparently risen from the dead, and challenge the usurper, Godunov’s problems exacerbate.
After a deathbed lesson to his young son on how to hold and handle power, closely modelled on that of Henry IV to Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s play, he dies leaving an open field for the new pretender who, of course, has the young tsar murdered.
Oddly Lloyd Hutchinson’s Godunov has little to do but reveal his inner angst. Gethin Anthony’s lightweight pretender is far more interesting, especially in a comically shaped key scene when, stricken with idealistic romantic fervour, he reveals his humble origins to Lucy Briggs-Owen’s Polish princess. She is horrified, having opportunistically seen herself as a a potential tsarina.
A fitting final production for Michael Boyd as artistic director of the RSC.
Runs until March 30. Box office: 0844-800 1114.
- Boris Godunov at the Swan, Stratford (thetimes.co.uk)
- ‘Boris Godunov’ in Swan Theatre (rbth.ru)
- Boris Godunov – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Stage: Review: Boris Godunov, by the RSC, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (birminghampost.net)
- Merrily We Roll Along; Boris Godunov; The Promise – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Ancient Chinese play in England (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- A Christmas wish list of the best Russian books (rbth.ru)
- St Petersburg’s homely tributes to Russia’s great artists (guardian.co.uk)