The Tower Theatre performing at the Bridewell Theatre
We're in 1920s Russia. The revolution is history. Ditto the First World War. People are now struggling with unemployment, crowded living conditions and a growing, but usually unspoken, sense that perhaps communism isn't all it's cracked up to be. Based on Nikolai Erdman's 1928 play The Suicide, this sparky version by Moira Buffini, gives us Semyon worrying about the pointlessness of his life and half-heartedly threatening to end it all, largely to rattle his wife. A great deal of very funny - close to farce at times - misunderstanding leads first to an assumption that Semyon will shoot himself and second to positive encouragement to do so by a whole string of self-interested hypocrites, including an orthodox priest. The play is an entertaining and pretty devastating satire on communism and it's hardly surprising that it was banned in Stalin's Russia.
In the hands of Tower Theatre Company director Robert Irvine and a talented cast of twelve working well together, it's excellent theatre.
Publicity images for the show by Adrian Calvo-Valderrama
Justin Stahley (Semyon) is a highly accomplished and totally convincing actor with a huge range of moods and gestures and outstanding timing. Emily Carmichael is a delight as his long-suffering wife, Masha, and Sue Brodie's performance as the difficult forthright, often hilarious mother-in-law is pleasingly professional.
Sacha Walker brings dignity, wit and maturity to Margarita, the high-class tart and bar owner who visits the house for assignations with neighbour, Alexander (Adrian Calvo-Valderrama) and who together become the voices of commonsense and decency. Both actors have oodles of stage presence and know how to use it. James McKendrick as the troubled, manic postman Yegor is good value too.
The show is played on a three-level set by Michael Bettell depicting the interior of the house where Semyon and his family live with three doors opening off an upstairs landing. I was impressed by how well the director exploited the exit and entrance potential given that he is working with a relatively large cast in a fairly small playing area.
Also pleasing was the use of music provided by Colin Guthrie and Joey Bradick on accordion and balalaika-like plucked instrument. They create a delicious folksy Russian sound at the beginning and end of each of the four acts as well as playing at the pre-suicide party which opens the second half.
I laughed a lot, but as in all the best comedy - if that's what this really is - there's strong underlying seriousness. And Buffini's powerful surprise ending is anything but funny. Dying for It is an interesting play performed here to a commendably high standard. Warmly recommended.
Review by Susan Elkin in 'Sardines' magazine
Photography by David Sprecher
Cast Semyon : Justin Stahley
Masha : Emily Carmichael
Serafima : Sue Brodie
Alexander : Adrian Calvo-Valderrama
Margarita : Sacha Walker
Yegor : James McKendrick
Aristarkh : John Irvine
Kiki : Jennifer Quinn
Father Yelpidy : Bill Boyd
Viktor : Alexander Buckley
Stepan Vasilievich / Beggar Musician : Colin Guthrie
Oleg Leonidovich / Beggar Musician : Joey Bradick
Director : Robert Irvine
Set Design : Michael Bettell
Costume Design : Dinah Irvine & Abigale Lewis
Lighting Design & Operation : Laurence Tuerk & Peter McDonald
Sound Design : Ruth Sullivan
Stage Manager : Sara George
ASMs : Beth Mahon, Petra Pendleton
Sound Operator : Lesley Strachan
Assistant Director : Adam Taylor
Set Construction : Keith Syrett, Michael Bettell,
Jude Chalk, Richard Davies,
John McSpadyen, Phillip
Ley and members of the
cast and crew
Publicity Co-ordinator : Jean Collins
This is Justin Stahley's debut performance for the Tower Theatre. Other credits include Jan from Rock'n'Roll, Sam in Foxfinder and Justin recently won the best male actor award for his role as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing at Putney Arts Theatre. Justin has also made several TV appearances including the BBC's Down to Earth series. Outside of acting, Justin is a keen drummer and has played many major festivals up and down the country. He likes to think of himself as a bit of a drummer queen ...
Something of a Moira Buffini fan, Emily Carmichael is very excited that Dying for It will be her third Tower Theatre production. Since joining the group last year, she has appeared in Bloody Poetry and The Deep Blue Sea. Emily is an active member of the Woodhouse Players (Our Country's Good, What the Butler Saw, Bed, A Separate Peace and upcoming September production The Acid Test), Network Theatre (A Midsummer Night's Dream and Road) and additional stage credits include The Crucible, The Importance of Being Earnest, Love and Money, Taking Sides, Richard III and the world-premiere staging of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Sue Brodie joined the Tower in 2006 after a long spell away from acting. Since then she has appeared in The Country Wife, Breath of Life, Cigarettes and Chocolate/Hang Up, Whipping it Up, the controversial production of Dinner, as well as Betsey Trotwood in the Tower's touring production of David Copperfield, and most recently in the musical murder mystery The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Adrian Calvo-Valderrama recently appeared as Dennis in The Voysey Inheritance and the hot-blooded Neville Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, having previously performed in Her Naked Skin and as Polidori in Bloody Poetry. He has been performing with amateur and semi-professional productions since he was 10, including the original version of this show, Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide. He trained at the Cours Simon in Paris.
This is Sacha Walker's third production with the Tower Theatre Company, after appearing as Suffolk in 5/11 and as a very convincing corpse in Loot. Other credits elsewhere include Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit, Sian in Dinner, Marion and Brenda in Road, Chorus/Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, Mary in That Joke Isn't Funny Any More, Sarah Siddons in The Actor's Nightmare, Gila in One for the Road, Lady Muldoon in The Real Inspector Hound and the Ghost of Christmas Past. She has also directed Wuthering Heights for Woodhouse Players in East London, with original music provided by Justin Sullivan of New Model Army, and produced the Network Theatre's Henry V in 2012.
This is James McKendrick's Tower debut and his second Moira Buffini production - previously playing Mike in Dinner. Other acting credits include Glengarry Glen Ross (Shelley Levene), Separate Tables (John Malcolm), The Real Inspector Hound (Birdboot), Antigone (Creon) and 45 Minutes To Go (Jerry), for which he received best actor award at the Waltham Forest Festival. He has directed Jim Cartwright's Road, Two and Bed, the latter receiving best play and best director awards at last year's Waltham Forest Festival. He has also performed at the Edinburgh, Brighton and Prague Fringe Festivals and in productions that transferred to the Orange Tree Theatre and Riverside Studios.
John Irvine's previous roles have included Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, Sigmund Freud and Maynard Keynes in A Knife In The Whale, Sorin in The Seagull, Matvey in A Month In The Country, Duke Senior in As You Like It, Jim in Breathing Corpses, DS Ross in Breaking The Code, and Sir Charles Gill in Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. His credits with the Tower include Her Naked Skin, 5/11, Macbeth, Princess Ivona and The Trial.
Jennifer Quinn studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, New York, where she performed in I Am A Camera, Damages and Boy's Life. In London, she has worked on radio and short films. She joined the Tower in September 2010 and has appeared in Proof, Jake's Women, Damages, David Copperfield and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
This is Bill Boyd's first show with the Tower. His previous roles include Firs (The Cherry Orchard), Arthur Winslow (The Winslow Boy), Petey (The Birthday Party), Peter Flynn (The Plough and the Stars), Bill (Further than the Furthest Thing), Scullery (Road), Chebutikin (Three Sisters), Badger (The Wind in the Willows) and Boby (The Visit).
Starting out in comedy and improvisation, Alexander Buckley has performed in venues from Sydney to London. Joining the Tower twice, initially in 2006 and then again in 2011, roles have included Edward in The Voysey Inheritance, David in David Copperfield, Lennox in Macbeth and DeeDee in Paradise - A Rock'n'Roll Fable. He has also appeared as Mr Blue in Prime Cuts at The Rose Theatre, Southwark, in Wireless Theatre's radio production of Springheel'd Jack and in the Oundle Fringe Festival.
In 27 years as a Tower member Colin Guthrie has musical directed, composed, directed and acted in many shows. Recent shows he has musical directed include David Copperfield, The Boy Friend and Lark Rise. Acting roles have included Mozart in Amadeus, Ian in Shining City and, most recently, William Cain in Her Naked Skin. He has directed many shows including the recent production of The Voysey inheritance, as well as the last play to be produced at the Tower's old home in Canonbury, Strangers on a Train. By day, Colin is a sound engineer for BBC Radio Drama and has directed a number of radio plays, including adapting and directing the first radio production of Peter Nichols' Passion Play.
This will be Joey Bradick's third Tower production, having previously appeared in Lark Rise and David Copperfield as a band member, which both went to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall. Joey will be taking Music as a degree at Sussex University and is very excited to be part of Dying for It.
Robert Irvine has been a member of the Tower for 25 years and has performed almost every role in a production at some time or other. Those who have seen him dress himself or try to hang a door will understand why he has not yet done Costumes or Set Design. This is Rob's directorial debut with the Tower.