Oscar Wilde’s The Nihilists preview

Entertainment

** 2 STARS **

The Nihilists

Showing Thursday 19th and Friday 20th May (3rd week) at 5pm

Tickets: £5, £4 students and concessions

The only thing worse than not seeing this play is, unfortunately, seeing this play. Certainly that’s how Wilde would have put it, anyway.

For someone unfamiliar with the play, the first few minutes of St Anne’s production were made even more excruciating than they needed to be; not only could I not follow what was going on, but I didn’t know what had gone before. Director Matthew Perkins gave us no indication of what excerpts were we about to see, nor was there any press information at all – characters or cast. Perhaps an insight into his directing technique.

All premise relied on a garbled, embarrassingly clichéd, overdramatic speech by a narrator of sorts, quoting Alfred Bryan – “Never mind, Oscar; other great men have had their dramatic failures!” If it was their sole aim to bring this out, then this team has succeeded.

We gather that there is a dangerous radical group calling itself the Nihilists terrorising Russia, and that the Tsar is a potential target. Wiki tells me that this is merely the context for a relationship between the protagonist, Vera, a lowly barmaid, and the Tsarevich, Alexis. One must question Wilde’s qualification to write about a love story in the face of extremist Russian politics.

The play is, then, set in Russia, although you’d be forgiven for missing this, there being a piercing American accent and some seriously dodgy aristocratic English ones. Rhys Davies as the Tsar was the only one to attempt the thick Russian drawl and, although not entirely convincing (it was quite Mafioso), must be commended for his effort. He also provides some of the only variation of tone in the drama, most actors reeling off their lines as though at gun point and with little consideration for what they were saying. Robin Driver does well to pick up on the humour of his situation in a lighter moment.

When lines aren’t hashed or misunderstood, they seem to be forgotten altogether – an awkward pause ensued as no one managed to indicate to the poor Tsar that he was to refuse to read his letter. Epigrams are simply jettisoned with no consideration as to their meaning, nor are they delivered with the smug, self-satisfaction required to carry them off – Edward Bell is charismatic as Prince Paul Maraloffski, but lacks any other dimension and quickly becomes boring.

With respect to staging, the humble set was not quite necessary, given the actors’ predilection to themselves assume the role of furniture; absolute stasis certainly seemed to be the default to which they returned after stepping forward to recite lines like verse.

More than just an ambitious play to perform, this play was a dud choice. Perhaps this troupe would have done better with another piece, or perhaps they should have just gone for panto. Maybe it was panto – perhaps the lead role, whom we didn’t see, is actually played by a goat. Either way, this is cringe theatre at its very worst; or best. I honestly didn’t know where to look. I suggest you look elsewhere.

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