Marcelle Murette, adapted for the stage by Andrei Vironov and Kate Sellers
Walking Thoughts Theatre
The unassuming yet beautiful Georgian façade of Pushkin House (on the corner of the Bloomsbury Square/Bloomsbury Way intersection) has been transformed for three weeks into a theatre for the world premiere of Anastasia, Marcelle Murette's original story adapted here by Andrei Vironov and Kate Sellers. It is Ms. Sellers (Director) and actor Andrew Byron who are the creative force behind Walking Thoughts, a Theatre Company that combines the best of Russian and British Theatre.
In this insightful, finely crafted piece, we are in 1928 Berlin, ten years after the murder of the Romanov family by the Bolsheviks. Rumours are spreading that Anastasia Nikolayevna, the seventeen year old youngest daughter of Tzar Nicholas II, may have survived the firing squad, giving hope to the re-establishment of old Russian values.
Businessmen Abramovich (Thomas Garvey), Alexandrovich (Julian Caddy) and The Prince (James Lomax) attempt to continue 'milking money from a corpse' in perpetuating the survival myth of the princess. As suggested by an unfinished painting of a regal young woman with missing facial features, they need a girl who will fit the frame enough to convince even the Tsar's mother, played with majestic authority by award-winning Eileen Nicholas (Trainspotting, All About My Mother).
Various women have claimed to be Anastasia over the years, although recent DNA evidence has proved this to be impossible. Ilona Bou Habib gives a heartrendingly nuanced portrayal of The Girl who may be the harbinger of a miracle. Initially dragged kicking and screaming from city slums to world stage, why is her choice to answer questions in German now replaced by an ability to speak fluent Russian? If she is the Nadia suggested by hardened Bolshevik Bounin (Byron), then how can she know certain intimate remembrances and anecdotes?
As the views of even the most hardened sceptic begin to waver, along with those of the Empress who may have just one member of her lost loved ones within arm's reach, it seems we are all hoping to believe the impossible: that the dead are not really lost to us, that time can be reversed.
Excellent use is made of the space available in this gorgeous townhouse setting. Sitting on the right-hand side facing the stage is wise, as a couple of cleverly dramatised scenes just outside the door may be lost to those on the left, although the atmosphere is enough to carry the imagination. Lighting and sound (Rob Mills and Peter Sunnegren respectively) capture mood and location superbly.
Time before the performance and during the interval can be spent in the charming Pushkin Library on the ground floor where books on Russian literature, history and art line the walls. With snow falling outside, my romantic notions of Doctor Zhivago and his Lara were satisfied yet tempered by poignant thoughts of the tragic Romanovs (whose slow progression across the stage will stay with me) and ghostly imaginings of Anastasia. This is a different and special way to spend two and a half hours over the Christmas/New Year period.
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler