I, Sniper

Mark Westbrook
Acting Coach Scotland
theSpace on North Bridge
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Acting Coach Scotland has brought to the Fringe a touching rendering of the life of famed female Russian sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, taking the audience on a whistle-stop tour of her life as an engine of distant death.

Opening with her being rewarded with a medal and commended on having killed over 309 enemy combatants, the wistful Pavlichenko talks of the war, how she came to be a sniper and the heavy toll it took on her life.

Throughout the runtime, the part of the famed "Lady Death" is passed through the various members of the company, with one wearing the ribbon medal denoting the narrator. We follow her career through the various difficulties she faces as a woman in a man's army, indeed even joining the army proves difficult. But through talent, perseverence and sheer bloody mindedness, she manages to reach the front and become a powerful force against the German invaders. It's a story with various ups and downs and one that manages to mix jokes and laughs in amongst the tears and horrors of the war.

However it also suffers from the fact that life when told plainly can be more than a little ungainly when turned into a story. As such, this play manages to cope with the fact that the early years and the middle are the most interesting periods of her career. But the end does see the interest dissipate somewhat. Moreover, the play feels somewhat rushed at points, which isn't helped by the fact that the line readings by some of the actors feel more than a little stilted, especially in contrast to the moments of high emotion.

The writing is also occasionally a little flat, and there's little beneath the surface of the play. Indeed, considering Pavlichenko's American posting and her use as a propagandistic tool, it would have been nice that the play wasn't quite as stompingly in love with Mother Russia as it is, and the necessity to beat the audience over the head with more that a couple of scenes of men raising an eyebrow at her abilities only to be proven wrong feels like a lack of imagination rather than anything else.

All in all it's a very entertaining, if occasionally flatly told, life story of a fascinating woman, who became a legend in her lifetime as well as an inspiration to generations thereafter.

Graeme Strachan