Gorky's Cool View of the Revolution; THEATRE Enemies Almeida

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 12, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Gorky's Cool View of the Revolution; THEATRE Enemies Almeida


Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH

MAXIM Gorky's astonishing drama of employers and workers at dangerous, pre-revolutionary odds in Russia a century ago, with prophetic intimations of the political storm to come, had its only London production in 1971: by then it was six decades since the Russian premiere and recognised as one of those neglected Gorky plays that look back to Chekhov in mood and forward to the Revolution in content.

With its cast of nearly 20 characters and an episodic structure, Enemies makes big demands of director and actors. Michael Attenborough's slightly off-colour production, located by designer Simon Higlett in a bleak, lime-tree laden garden redolent of Chekhov, does not really capture the rising tension of the first act or sustain it in the second. And some performances betray signs of caricature or miss their inherent, comic potential.

Yet the fascination of Enemies keeps its hold in David Hare's fluent new version. In place of Chekhov's political optimism and aspiration, the lash of confrontation is heard. Despite his status as a revolutionary agitator, Gorky scarcely sentimentalises his workers or demonises the employers.

Conflict, though, simmers beyond the garden and finally erupts in it.

Sean Chapman's suitably limp, liberal Zakhar Bardin, the owner of a factory who prefers to look on himself as a landowner, leaves the main business to his managing director, Mikhail.

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