Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court Theatre
It's thirty years since the world heard with horror of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster.
The first journalist on the spot was Vladimir Gubaryev, Science Editor of Pravda. Asked to write a literary response for a magazine, he chose drama as his genre.
The resulting piece, delivered months after the event, achieved instant fame both in Russia and abroad. But it now lies largely forgotten: this was a rare opportunity to see it on stage.
Wordy, didactic and strangely lacking in drama, it presents unique challenges to the director bold enough to tackle it. In this case the intrepid Dave Hawkes, with Laura Hill. The writing is relentlessly realistic, but, wisely, the surreal elements have been played up in this production: the frantic, sinister activity under blue light, for example, and especially the outstanding tour-de-force of Andy Poole as Bessmertny [Mr Immortal] the sole patient of the Nuclear Medicine Clinic before the accident “imprisoned here as a guinea pig”.
The large cast of victims and medical staff includes Louise Hart as the Physicist, who courageously completes her research before the radiation sickness kills her, Jesse Powis as the General, blustering as the finger of blame is pointed at him, Rhiannon Thorn as the surgeon who finally cracks under the pressure, and Barry Taylor as the man with [obsolete] geiger counter, racked with guilt at misreading the disaster.
Public service announcements, music and video footage are welcome relief from the eye-witness accounts and the fact-heavy dialogue – the Investigator's interviews seem to go on forever. The set is excellent, a curved wall of curtained cubicles, recalling a health spa or sanatorium, and it is used to good dramatic effect [with a hatch for “Krolik”] not least in the curtain call.
Olivier-nominated back in '87, this is a remarkable document of a momentous event, enterprisingly revived by the CTW company. It's just a shame it's not a better play.