Saturday, October 08, 2011


MAYAKOVSKY: The Slanting Rain

Salida Productions and The Mercury Theatre Company
Vladimir Mayakovsky was a poet and playwright prominent in the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, an eccentric, wayward spirit who finally shot himself in 1930.
The Mercury Theatre Company have collaborated in this innovative staging with Salida Productions – they worked together on Romeo and Juliet in 2010.
The studio is set up like the back room of a pub on open mic night. Beer-stained tables huddled round a dais. But onto the stage walks not a truculent, potty-mouthed alternative comedian, but a truculent, potty-mouthed Futurist poet. It feels like stand-up, with the house lights left on, and plenty of interaction with the audience, picking on punters and humiliating the man with the mobile. There's even an undercurrent of wry humour.
Ed Hughes' performance is a masterpiece of fire and physicality. In a Leninist three-piece suit, pens in breast pocket, he berates lyricism, the past, Pushkin, and especially critics. The poet of the people, he writes and performs for the factory and the shipyard. He's used to slapping faces and kicking bollocks; he prefers the rotten apples and broken bottles to the cotton wool reception he gets chez Gorki.
Andrew Rattenbury's hour-long monologue draws heavily on the poems, although, perhaps intentionally, it was not always clear when the tirade ended and the verse began. There were hints of tenderness, too, tears of love lost and loneliness making a telling contrast with the anger and the aggression.
The stark staging was effective, with chalk scrawled on the wall, and the poet's trademark yellow coat standing out against the black brickwork.
Was this how it was when the real Mayakovsky stood up in front of the five thousand ? We'll never know, but the piece, urging outcry and confusion, was a powerful reminder of a seminal figure in Soviet culture.

I want to be understood by my country, nothing more.
but if I fail to be understood –
what then?,
I shall pass through my native land
at an angle, in vain,
like a shower
of slanting rain.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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