Vassily Sigarev
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
"Evening Standard" Awards 2002 winner: Most Promising Playwright

Plasticine (Royal Court's International Playwrights Season 2002) is a contemporary Russian tragedy. It depicts the descent into a Dantesque hell of the teenage Maksim.

The Royal Court has currently been undergoing an internal rebuild. Following the restructuring of the Downstairs Theatre for Nightsongs, all seats have been removed for this production Upstairs. The audience are allowed, or even compelled to promenade as the actors thread their way amongst them. There is also a considerable amount of scaffolding that creates a gallery that forms part of both the auditorium and the stage.

Sasha Dugdale's translation and Dominic Cooke's direction both give this production an aura of surreal madness. This seems wholly appropriate as the play investigates a Russian underworld that seems both terrifying and all too believable.

The very promising Michael Legge as Maksim has a very rough time. It is not always clear whether his problems are in his mind or are happening in reality. He joins food queues, is expelled from school, beaten-up repeatedly and raped. All the while, he is modelling in plasticine. Whether this is supposed to represent a suppressed creative instinct or possibly is an analogue for drug-taking is uncertain.

On the strength of Plasticine, it would appear that modern Russia is a country populated by drunkards, pimps and bullies where food is in short supply. One fears that this might be all too true.

Through all of his trials and tribulations, Maksim is sustained by an almost religious vision of a beautiful girl always dressed in white. In this way, Sigarev seems to be telling us that despite the bleakness of his vision, there is hope somewhere that even the downtrodden in Russia will eventually escape their bonds.

While this is not a cheerful play it is rewarding and well worth a visit with solid acting all round and confident direction from Dominic Cooke.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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