Fathers and Sons**** (Donmar Warehouse)

Posted: July 5, 2014 in Theatre

Attachment-1-3Ivan Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons first appeared in 1862, preceding Chekhov’s greatest plays by more than 30 years, yet Brian Friel’s adaptation is marked by the same feelings of wistfulness and melancholy as those plays. The setting is rural Russia on the estates of aristocratic landowners, but, whereas Chekhov used similar settings to depict a social order in terminal decline and on the cusp of being overturned, Turgenev sees the emergence of revolutionary forces which will make waves, but ultimately leave the status quo intact. There is much talk of disturbing “the natural order of things”, but not displacing it and, taking a longer view of history from a modern day perspective, perhaps Turgenev got it right and even the 1917 Revolution was no more than a temporary blip. Arkady and Bazarov are close friends who return together from university in St Petersburgh to their family homes, both claiming to be nihilists, without agreeing with each other on the word’s definition. Arkady cannot entirely detach himself from his heritage and bonds of affection, but Bazarov, a brilliant student and radical thinker, is dispassionate towards his family and lovers, until he meets the lovely widow Anna and finds it impossible to rein in his emotions. There are flaws in the narrative which emanate from the novel itself and from condensing it, but Friel’s script is rich with insight and wit. There can be no complaints about Lindsey Turner’s production – she strikes the perfect balance between pathos and humour, paying great attention to detail and her casting choices are impeccable. Tim McMullan shines as Arkady’s Uncle Pavel, debonair, droll, waspish and the staunchest defender of the established order. Seth Numrich, the American actor who was so good in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic last year, impresses again with his commanding stage presence as Bazarov, showing us the inner turmoil beneath the character’s outward fervour. Joshua James is a naive and impressionable Arkady, devoted and loyal, but rueful that he lacks both the intellect and dynamism of his friend. As the two fathers, Anthony Calf and Karl Johnson are loveable eccentrics, both touching us as they face their families’ ordeals. The set, built almost entirely from planks of wood, is magnificent, rounding off what is a highly accomplished work of theatre.

Performance date: 4 July 2014

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