Black Bread and Cucumber
Written and performed by Caroline Blakiston
Jermyn Street Theatre
A woman walks onto the almost bare stage with several layers of overcoats and cardigans and starts to remove them muttering away to herself, and occasionally the audience - in Russian. She continues for some time until she is just wearing a skirt and blouse and then with a twinkle in her eye asks the audience, "Are you worried?"
Caroline Blakiston made history in 1991 as the first English actress to act in Chekhov in Russia - in Russian. As Charlotta in The Cherry Orchard she played first at the Dramatichesky Teatr in Taganrog and later at the Moscow Art Theatre. This beautifully observed piece is less of a play and more of a reminiscing and recount. Russia of the early 1990's is evoked through sound effects and observations with only two chairs and a single table for the set. Nothing more is needed however, as Blakiston's performance is captivating and insightful whilst remaining uniquely personal.
For those interested in theatre - or indeed social - history this production offers a fascinating glimpse into life as a foreign actress in a culture which was fast changing. It also highlights the similarities between actors everywhere with re-creations of theatrical customs and behaviour littered throughout the script.
There are plenty of lighthearted moments in this production and the small extracts of Russian dialogue enhance the experience that we re-live with her. There are also moments of pathos, however, and the description of a funeral service for a fellow actor is certainly moving.
It can sometimes be difficult for solo shows to capture an audience for an entire evening, especially with an interval, but this intriguing and well paced piece faces no such problems. It is perhaps not a show for the inexperienced theatregoer with so many references to Chekov and Stanislavski but, despite its niche appeal, sparkles in such an intimate gem of a theatre.
Runs until 23rd October
Reviewer: Amy Yorston