Playing the Victim

the Presnyakov Brothers, translated by Sasha Dugdale
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2003)

This comedy, which has transferred from the Traverse in Edinburgh, has really taken off in its new home. The even smaller, more intimate space of the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs suits this strange little satire that borders on farce. It may also help that director, Richard Wilson, spends so much of his time working in the space.

The main protagonist in this play is Valya, a wilful man of 30, who spends his whole life avoiding anything unpleasant. He attributes this to fear although more realistically, he acknowledges that it could be regarded as laziness. He eats with chopsticks because this is so slow that his parents will have done the washing up before he finishes. Similarly, rather than completing a university education, he has taken a job "playing the victim" at a series of police murder reconstructions.

Andrew Scott does a fine a job of playing this Oblomov-like philosopher. In particular, he delivers a very funny, coruscating opening monologue that obliquely satirises Russian society today. It also gives some good reasons for avoiding crabsticks!

The other elements of the comedy are more physical and are provided by Told by an Idiot, the company led by Paul Hunter and Hayley Carmichael. This pair plays the Valya's parents. Hunter also becomes two Marty Feldman-like police inspectors, one ranting and lecherous, the other vain, while Miss Carmichael is the video camera wielding, too devoted assistant of the first of them.

Hunter takes us through four different murder reconstructions while Michael Glenn Murphy puts on different accents, silly clothes and facial hair as the murderers.

In London, much of the comic timing is spot on and Richard Wilson, assisted by a deliberately drab set designed by Nicolai Hart Hansen, combines social commentary with moments of great humour. Told by an Idiot's physical brand of humour is seen to best effect in the scene and costume changes that vary from ultra slow motion to frantic.

Playing the Victim may not have quite the impact of Terrorism, the Presnyakov Brothers' first play to travel to the United Kingdom but it provides an odd and witty vision of post-Soviet Russian life.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher