Flora Wilson Brown’s adaptation of Pushkin’s tragic love story is a delicate, punching text, which seems to lose itself in Jimmy Dougan’s production that I struggle to cling on to. After Tanya meets the charming Eugene Onegin, he turns out to be just a bit of a dick really (there’s a surprise), leading the play to a bloody conclusion.
I’m delighted to see that the technicians operating the show are positioned on the stage. We get a real sense that this is a play that’s going to deconstruct the form in front of us, or at the very least reveal the labour. The gold confetti parodies the romantic encounter, the igniting of young love, with an additional connotation of financial luxury that sees the lovers indulging in an explosion of gold-dust. The pouring blood becomes prominent as a dark, thick syrup brings destruction to an otherwise liquid-free set.
It starts with a slowness. A static. The technician cues the lights. Four actors step into position at the back of the deep stage. And then they run forward into the light. We see their faces looking out at us. We don’t see this effect repeated until the play’s final moment. And this lack of engagement does that very thing: it means I struggle to engage. It gets to the final scene. The time-jump. A lighting change takes us back into reality. But Fionn Creber’s performance plays so tightly to the stereotypes of the sleazy, charming posh boy that I just can’t care about what he has to say. I find myself completely ignoring him. So I’m pissed off that he gets to be the one to claim the final onstage moment. But on the other hand, with Tanya’s exit through the front door, our final image shows us a man who's totally on his own in an empty black box. Reminiscences of a previous life are left in gold-dust on the floor.
Brown’s script emanates Eugene’s charm, flirting with the audience with occasional wit. "He’s so posh it’s hard to tell" is a particular favourite. There’s intriguing discussion about pain and art, about what the function of art is. About what poetry is for. And this neatly threads in with the deconstructive nature of the performance. I just wish it was somehow even more deconstructive. There’s also a lack of descriptive imagery which means I struggle to see what this world looks like.
Darcy Dobson’s Tanya is so on the verge of commanding the stage, but the depth of the performance space results in all the cast being slightly absorbed by the room. The end-on staging keeps us distanced from the action, and sometimes it feels like they’ve forgotten about their audience. We want to be running through the story with them, and a more intimate setup would help achieve this.
The stakes don’t rise as the play progresses. I thought this might be a stylistic choice at one point. It’s almost as if this is a story that the creatives actively dislike, and I thought the deconstructive theatrical elements were leaning towards this. But that doesn’t carry through. I don’t feel the hit at the end like I think I should. The result is a successful textual adaptation in a production that doesn’t seem too sure of itself.
An earlier version of this review was published in print.
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