The Theatreguide.London Review
The Knight Of The Burning Pestle
Barbican Theatre June 2019
English farce performed in modern dress and in Russian – what's not
co-production of the British Company Cheek By
Jowl and the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre is a lot of fun, though
most of the fun lies in the play itself, with the production adding
(Cheek By Jowl is an
internationally touring company led
by director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, with
associations and residencies with theatres around the world. Here
they work with actors and designers from the Pushkin, in what amounts
to a Pushkin production with guest director Donnellan.)
Beaumont's 1607 play is a metatheatrical romp in which actors trying
to put on a serious drama are interrupted and taken over by an
unsophisticated grocer and his wife from the audience who want more
jokes, a happy ending and a role for their nephew Rafe.
As the actors
try to ignore and then accommodate the invaders, the inner play and
the supposed reality around it clash and merge in comic ways.
grocer's wife repeatedly misunderstands the plot, sides with the bad
guy and interrupts the action to offer advice or sympathy to the
characters, while Rafe invents a role for himself – the
Quixote-ish title character – who keeps barging in on a plot that
has no place for him.
Beaumont's play is all
very light and funny, neither the
play the actors are trying to put on nor their exasperation at the
interruptions taken very seriously, and the satire of the dimwitted
invaders never particularly harsh. But neither the real Russian
actors nor their British director add much to it.
has a lot of fun with the total lack of self-awareness or internal
censor in the grocer's wife, but everyone else seems vaguely
uncomfortable, shackled and inhibited by either the underwritten
characterisations in the text or the director's single-note guidance.
Declan Donnellan is
unquestionably a director of insight and talent,
but farce does not appear to be his metier, and opportunities to
exploit the comic situations are repeatedly missed.
actors are far too languid and unaffected by the interruptions, and
scenes that cry out for uninhibited broad playing are too often –
like a mock battle scene when Rafe's knight attacks the inner play's
good guy – just shapeless running about rather than the
tightly-choreographed slapstick they clearly want.
The chances of
your seeing another production of The Knight Of The Burning Pestle
anytime soon are slim, and the ability to say your one encounter with
the play was in Russian will add a certain cachet.
But despite a fair quota of legitimate laughs in this production, you are more likely to be aware of opportunities missed than of a good play enhanced.
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