By Denise O'Leary
Why travel all the way to Edinburgh for fringe theatre when it's happening in London? This is a highly original play by Denise O'Leary which is a moral fable about the dangers of consumerism. Can working longer hours and buying more stuff ever make us happy? The answer is obviously no, and the message of the play is that the lovely Pandora, distracted by watching the 'real life box' into seeking a prosperous new lifestyle, can only find happiness when she puts her child and husband first.
I should own up to knowing the author, the director and most of the actors in this play, but I hadn't heard or read it before going to this production at the Etcetera in Camden Town, part of the Camden Fringe. Director Dimitry Devdariani has successfully reimagined this play, originally written for radio, for the stage as a kind of Slavic folk-tale with a modern twist. We're almost in the world of the golden cockerel or the goose that lays golden eggs. Pandora (Margarita Nazarenko) is poor but happy until her husband brings home a mysterious box with a key; eventually they open the 'real life box' which introduces them to a world of exotic food and drink, cigarettes, shampoos and other luxuries. The story arc and the gentle satire on consumerism are predictable, but what is interesting is the style of the production. It's the modern equivalent of a Russian lubok or crude woodcut, with sudden flashes of realism. With the exception of Pandora, the characters don't have names apart from Husband, Sister, Neighbour and so on, leaving little opportunity for subtle characterisation. But the cast, including Charles Church as the long-suffering husband, Richard Holt as a shop salesman and Tieva Lovell as Pandora's sister, inhabit their roles and their Slavic accents with real panache.
This show should be transferring to the Rosemary Branch theatre in September, and is well worth the trip if you can't catch it at the Etcetera by August 11.
30th August - 17th September 2011
£12 / £10 (Wed - Sun)
Rosemary Branch Theatre
2 Shepperton Road
London, N1 3DT
(Box Office: 020 7704 6665)
Pandora, Husband and Baby Son live somewhere in a rural, folkloresque Russia, possibly existing in the split second the Wall came down and the west poured into the Motherland. They have nothing but snow and each other. Every day Husband descends into a pit to scrape for coal and Pandora plays with Baby Son, a terrifyingly life-like doll. They are happy. Then one day Husband finds a box and brings it in from the cold. Against Pandora’s wishes Husband opens the box, finding it full to bursting with Real Life and the outside Modern World. All one could hope for and dream of is available from the box on infinite Pay Forever Credit, and the price is merely everything you never knew you had.
Denise O’Leary’s script is terrific, wandering confidently into Gogol and Beckett territory. Building in snippets it creates an evocative Russian fairy tale that satirises the 21st century without ever becoming twee or forced. The entire cast are wonderful, completely absorbed in the reality of the play but able to improvise flawlessly when necessary. At one point Pandora’s sister (played by Tieva Lovell) loses her ratty blond wig. Rather than scrambling to jam the exploded Scotch Terrier back on her bonce she continues nonchalantly then swivels it back on when she feels like it. But of course the hair fell off. It’s crap hair. Later she chides the hairdresser who gave it to her (Stu-Art James) and the whole episode might have been written in the script all along. That’s class.