Author Archives: Carole Woddis


Lyttelton, National Theatre, London (****)

© Brinkhoff Mögenburg, Toby Stephens (Terje Rød-Larsen), Lydia Leonard (Mona Juul), projections by 59 Productions

© Brinkhoff Mögenburg, Toby Stephens (Terje Rød-Larsen), Lydia Leonard (Mona Juul), the personal dwarfed by the public and political. Projections by 59 Productions

J T Rogers is not new to British audiences. Anyone who saw his Rwanda-based The Overwhelming (2006, with Out of Joint and the NT) or Blood and Gifts (part of Nicholas Kent’s extraordinary and impressive survey of western involvement in Afghanistan – The Great Game in 2009) or the later Madagascar (at Theatre503 in 2010) will know that he’s a writer who lacks to tackle big political subjects. Continue reading

Eugene Onegin

Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia, on film, Barbican Cinema 2, London (*****)

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Eugenia Kregzhde (Tatyana Larina)

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Eugenia Kregzhde (Tatyana Larina)

For most art lovers, Eugene Onegin exists in Tchaikovsky’s opera, a huge favourite since its premiere in 1879. The original verse novel (serialised between 1825-32) though has remained fairly inaccessible to English-speaking audiences because of the difficulties of its translation.

But now Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theatre’s filmed version of a live performance of the play of the novel by its artistic director, Rimas Tuminas has arrived, if only for one screening at the Barbican.

One hopes there will be more. For it is an overwhelming, dazzling experience, sweeping in scope, theatrically inventive in every moment, a tribute and a gloriously re-imagined monument to Pushkin, the father of Russian Literature and a compendium of elements that go to make up the Russian soul .

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Victor Dobronravov (younger Onegin), Sergey Makovetskiy (older Onegin)

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Victor Dobronravov (younger Onegin), Sergey Makovetskiy (older Onegin)

Sometimes Russian theatre has arrived in London garlanded with praise only to turn out, in comparison with our puckish, modern glossy exteriors as dated and old-fashioned.

It’s true, even here in this wonder of wonders, there are a few declamatory moments, notably towards the end when the young heroine, Tatyana (the astonishingly luminous, beguiling Eugeniya Kregzhde) re-emerges from despair to capture the heart of the much older suitor who, in turn, rhapsodises, a little stiffly, to the by now, heart-broken Onegin on the joys of finding love again in old age.

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Yury Shlykov (Prince), now Tatyana's husband (Eugeniya Kregzhde) confronting a lovelorn Onegin (Sergey Makovetskiy)

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Yury Shlykov (Prince), now Tatyana’s husband (Eugeniya Kregzhde) confronting a lovelorn Onegin (Sergey Makovetskiy)

Tuminas, however is one in a million. Whilst utterly true to Pushkin’s original text, he confides, in the filmed introduction to the production, that he sees Eugene Onegin as really being `about Tatyana’. `We searched too for Eugene. But he is lost although pride and honour are in him, a symbol of the Russian spirit.’

Tuminas’s production therefore throws Tatyana’s state of mind – even when sitting unobtrusively at the side of the stage – into the sharpest focus amongst the vivid, constantly moving stage pictures mixing past and present in a swirling kaleidoscope.

Sometimes it borders on pantomime but more often Tuminas achieves a stunning series of visual and emotional highlights with merely a glance such as Tatyana’s father meeting sudden death by simply being walked off stage. The look in his eyes is the barest of hints at what is going on within – bewilderment, glassy numbness – yet it strikes right to the heart.

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Eugenia Kregzhde (Tatyana Larina) and other marital `angels' should be about imagination and `flying' as Liudmila Maksakova's crusty ballet mistress notes towards the end...

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Eugenia Kregzhde (Tatyana Larina) and other marital `angels’ flying…life should be about imagination and `flying’ as Liudmila Maksakova’s crusty ballet mistress notes towards the end…

This is perhaps one of the advantages of filmed performance – the ability to capture the whites of the eyes and the tiniest gesture. Stage Russia’s filming of the Vakhtangov, too, surpasses most of what we normally see here in filmed live performances by quite a margin.

This is after all, high Romanticism. But Tuminas’s handsome production uses a mainly bare stage, inhabited by moving figures who sing and reference Russia’s long history of ballet and mythologies to do with the Russian Bear, always accompanied by Faustas Latenas’s hauntingly melancholic, wistful score that draws on sources ranging from Russian folk to string quartets, piano and the balalaika to cover the story of the older Onegin (Sergey Makovetskiy’s world-weary Onegin) as he looks back on meeting Tatyana and his cruel rejection of her by his younger self  (Victor Dobronravov).

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Onegin (Sergey Makovetskiy)

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Onegin (Sergey Makovetskiy)

Inevitably, for some of us, the narrative carries echoes of Ibsen’s much later The Wild Duck (of innocence crushed) as also Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in Tatyana’s adolescent romantic dreams gleaned from too much reading.

Tuminas’s staging also sometimes recalls elements of Pina Bausch in its physicality and inbuilt wry, sardonic commentary which Simon McBurney’s recent revelatory production of Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity with Berlin’s Schaubuhne’s Theatre also echoes.

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, after the duel between Onegin and Lenskiy that kills Lenskiy...

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, after the duel between Onegin and Lenskiy that kills Lenskiy…

At three and a half hours in length (with a 15 minute intermission), the time flies by, each moment kept alive by this remarkable company (special mention for a superb Artur Ivanov as a drunken quasi-Pushkin alter-ego and Liudmila Maksakova as a martinet ballet teacher and Tatyana’s Romeo and Juliet type nanny).

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Hussar (Artur Ivanov)

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, Hussar (Artur Ivanov)

It’s a portrait of rural Russia that stings with its insights into the vagaries of the human heart and encapsulation of the Russian spirit.

Everything is moveable in Tuminas’s interpretation – memory, emotions, dreams, fate – except for virtue. Virtue, goodness remain, undaunted, unquenchable – a very Dostoevskian ideal.

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, ballet master (Liudmila Maksakova)

© Dmitriy-Dubinskiy, ballet master (Liudmila Maksakova)

If it comes your way again (it was here, on stage at the Barbican, in 2015), please don’t fail to see it.

British theatre is rightly lauded for its new writing and experimentalism. But the Vakhtangov’s Eugene Onegin is proof that there are other worlds, other aesthetics and performers alive in western culture that freshen the soul and parts that our own cherished theatre traditions doesn’t always manage to reach.


Eugene Onegin
By Alexander Pushkin
Translated by Kat Soloviev.
Performed in Russian with English surtitles

Cast: (partial)
Eugene Onegin (Older): Sergey Makovetskiy
Eugene Onegin (Younger): Victor Dobronravov
Retired Hussar: Artur Ivanov
Vladimir Lensky (Older): Vasily Simonov
Vladimir Lensky (Younger): Oleg Makarov
Tatyana Larina: Eugeniya Kregzhde
Olga Larina: Natalia Vinokurova
“Tatyana’s Dream”: Irina Kupchenko
Nanny, Dancing Master: Liudmila Maksakova

Created and Directed by Rimas Tuminas
Set Design: Adomas Jacovskis
Costumes: Mariya Danilova
Music: Faustas Latenas
Choreographer: Angelica Cholina
Musical director:Tatiana Agaeva
Lighting Designer: Maya Shavdatuashv

Presented by Stage Russia:, part of Barbican Afternoon Arts Series.

See also upcoming The Cherry Orchard (Oct 12) by the Moscow Art Theatre and Anna Karenina (Nov 16) by the Vakhtangov



Southwark Playhouse, London (****)

© Paul Nicholas Dyke, Stella Gonet as Sister Aloysius

© Paul Nicholas Dyke, Stella Gonet as Sister Aloysius

What price certainty? Christ’s `it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ could perhaps be replaced in John Patrick Shanley’s Tony award and Pulitzer prize winner with `it is easier for a doubter to enter the kingdom than the man – or woman – of certainty.’ Continue reading

The Stepmother

Orange Tree, Richmond (London) ****

Fashion in Theatre as in Art has a time lapse. Playwrights who were fashionable in their time disappear only to re-emerge and be `re-discovered’. Nowhere more so than with female playwrights.

Sam Walters at his small but perfectly formed in-the-round Orange Tree theatre in Richmond has been busy uncovering them for the past three decades, especially from the Edwardian and post WW1 era. His recent revival of Githa Sowerby’s The Stepmother is a wonderful case in point.

Sowerby is currently back in the news because of Rutherford & Son, her most famous play to date, written in 1912 and currently touring in a much acclaimed Northern Broadsides production by Jonathan Miller. The Stepmother, written twelve years later, is an even more vivid exploration of new attitudes to women at work and in the home which judging by this, has lost none of its relevance ninety years later.

Sowerby was a Fabian, much influenced by the group led by Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and others but even more concerned with the position of women in society.

Whilst The Stepmother may not carry the mischievousness of Shaw, neither does it carry his dialectical ponderousness.

Sowerby presents the situation of a young woman, taken into a home as first a `companion’, then governess, then wife to an older partner and businessman, Eustace Gaydon with a depth, subtlety and emotional insight Shaw seldom matches.

It’s a remarkable, detailed slow-burn of play building to a climax that even now makes audiences gasp.

Oozing charm from every pore, Christopher Ravenscroft’s portrait of Eustace is a small master class in self justification (all too many latter day equivalents spring to mind) as he first swindles then exploits and finally loses his young wife’s inheritance all in the name of doing what is best for her, protecting her and his family of two girls.

Gradually you watch as, like a chrysalis emerging from its cocoon, Katie McGuinness’s innocent and hard-working Lois – she has skills as a dressmaker and has built up a small business – painfully realises the cost of ignorance and lack of control over her own financial affairs whilst trying to carry on the job of wife and particularly mother to the two young step-daughters for whom she now feels responsibility.

A conscious repudiation on Sowerby’s part of the usual `wicked stepmother’ of fairy-tale myth, Walters’ rare revival of this seldom seen play (indeed not staged since its original private performance in 1924) is, as always at this theatre, a model of period detail, skilfully presented, seamless in its set transitions and beautifully cast and played.

A revelation, well worth the trip. Perhaps now Githa Sowerby may be recognised for the talent she is and not have to be `rediscovered’ as a respectable playwright by every new generation!

The Stepmother is at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond to March 9, 2013; see

Review published on this site, Sept 9, 2017
First published on Londongrip, Feb 24, 2013