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15/05/14 THE NABOKOV CABARE - A DASHING FELLOW  by Mascha from Russia

[  ]The play is based on 3 autonomous works by Vladimir Nabokov, but united together into an intimate (not least because of the space), immersive and slightly voyeuristic cabaret-style take on the nature of human degradation.[  ] “A Dashing Fellow” is a play which was adapted by Rosy Benjamin and Ben Maier especially for Belka Productions from 3 independent Vladimir Nabokov’s plays: the eponymous “A Dashing Fellow”, “A Matter of Chance” and “A Nursery Tale”. All 3 stories were originally written in Russian language, and were later translated into English by Vladimir Nabokov himself (who was an equally inspiring and talented bilingual writer) with the help of his son. The duo of Rosy and Benjamin managed to weave all three narratives into an engaging, musical, fast-paced play, which presents in a slightly comedic way a grim picture of pretty horrendous set of characters, while retaining the absolutely stunning Nabokov’s prose.  The play is set in what we understand to be interwar Germany of the 1930s, the mixture of ruin and opportunity. The audience is haunted by the retrospective knowledge of the terror to come. More importantly, the play is oscillating around trains and train stations, as if to reinforce the chaos of people with their emotions and complete disorientation. The setting provides an effective theatrical trick to throw in different characters to interact with one another. The feeling of misplacement, disorientation, loss of credible signposts, in terms of geography and morality. Despite the constant murmur of populated platforms, everyone is very isolated and alone. [  ] In this play there is a fully British cast of 6 young actors who are faced with the challenge of playing an eclectic, eccentric and overall flamboyant set of characters ranging from a love-obsessed-drug addict-ex aristocrat Alexei Lvovich Luzhin (beautifully musical Luke Courtier) longing for his lost wife (Kate Craggs), the depraved and sexually obsessed low level travelling Russian salesman Konstantin (Joel Gorf) in pursuit of his next victim, who happens to be a young woman run over by life generally and happy to accept the advances pretty much for food (Madeleine Knight), the horrendously timid voyeur Erwin (Edward Cole) and the actual impersonation of the devil as the aging Frau Monde ( played by the energetic Peter Clements, who actually delivers the majority of the comedy in the play – “being a woman has its points, but being an aging woman is hell, if you will pardon the expression.”). Frau Monde is the gracious and mischievous host to this organised chaos, the 'Nabokov Cabaret' and the director's nod to Master and Margarita. Yes, the characters were hyperbolised, over-exaggerated and grotesque, and seeing this in such an intimate setting ( the theatre is not very big) was at times disturbing, given the raw level of emotion and energy which is poured on you. But the play did seem coherent and woven with the same narrative thread and there was no feeling of disjointedness between the different stories.[  ] It is impossible to write anything about Nabokov and not to mention the euphoria of hearing his prose [  ] Nabokov is actually very stingy with words. He does not overwhelm you with descriptions, he does not generously bathe you in his prose, rather almost shoots at you with very targeted, very charged arrows. How cleverly he shows a person crashed by his love for longing, or longing for love - “the neurosis of loss, the ego’s artful negotiation of the id’s brute pain and grief and suffering”. There is nothing descriptive about this. It is a painful physical process: “...but one word. Over and over. And that one word is Lena. Lena. Once upon a Lena, dear reader – dear Lena- there was a Lena, and Lena lived in Lena, where she was Lena Lena Lena Lena...!” The elongated, lingering, longing, loving, lonely “L’s” as delivered by Luke Courtier, who plays Alexei Luzhin. There are no coincidences with Nabokov.  Given the musicality of the text and the subject matter (almost a freak show of human vices), it is no wonder that the play is punctuated by music, and actual songs written especially for the production. A fine comedic break with the “There’s something growing” song, also known as Erwin’s song.  Frau Monde (the devil, as she introduces herself, and we tend to believe) is in her element when she brings the play firmly at our footsteps at the end. The audience is not an abstraction, it is also filled with people/humans/humanoid-Ja?: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have arrived at our destination. Please mind the gap as you leave the train...And don’t look so sad. You have homes to go to, I’m sure. Love affairs to conduct. Friends to get drunk and fall over in the street with...”  


Jansy Mello: Lots of stereotypes about Nabokov as a “magician with words” and some curious conclusions, such as VN’s being “ stingy with words”  (and the quoted line from the play is certainly not Nabokovian with its references to the ego and the id- like another one that I remember, from salesman Konstantin, indicating a line in Hamlet, something like “frailty thy name is Goldie,” while pulling off a golden hair from his lapel,)  or that “there are no coincidences with Nabokov.”
Erwin’s song, written especially for the production, reminded me from the start of some operatic lines (Rossini?) ] and Erwin himself was a lecherous, tongue licking, mouth-watering caricature of Nabokov’s character. Actually, most  renderings were “hyperbolized” indeed! Frau Monde, at times, was positively spastic (but fun, too). The truest to type, in my eyes, was Luzhin and the blind exchange between his soul and his wife’s, recited when both were standing side by side on stage was heartrendingly delivered and finally this invented dialogue was quite true to the Nabokovian spirit. However most of the time I was immersed in a clever blend of quasi Nabokovian short-stories, linked by trains and “Frau Monde,” energetically staged, with pathetic and comic asides, but actually delightful to attend.


Another review: A Dashing Fellow at the New Diorama | Theatre review:  Sunday 27th April 2014 at “The Upcoming”
A Dashing Fellow is an adaption of three separate Vladimir Nabokov short stories: A Matter of Chance, A Nursery Tale and A Dashing Fellow, brought together to tell a tale of journeys, exile and longing. Set in Berlin, where Nabokov himself was living in exile during the Russian Revolution, the lives of three individuals – Erwin, a man who is so crippled by his shyness that he is set apart from society, Konstantin, a scheming Russian adulterer of a travelling sales man, and Alexey, a narcotised Russian exile who longs for his wife Lena – perfectly encapsulate the themes and emotions that are constant throughout Nabokov’s novels. Combining three short stories, taking Nabokov’s own texts, adapting new script and adding music cannot have been an easy feat, but it is done here to perfection. The sense of journey, movement and time are dispersed between magnificent segments of Nabokovian wordplay and prose, which leaves the audience enchanted. The added music is worrying at first, though it gives a “mother Russia” feel to the play, which ties in nicely to Nabokov’s own theme of nostalgia and longing.

The stage is well adapted for the rush of movement as actors utilise scaffolding posts and vintage suitcases in order to produce a multi-purpose moving stage. The cast work well together in exploring dynamism on stage, though at times the acting is a tad bit over dramatic. Still this works perfectly for Peter Clements who plays Frau Monde, the devil in disguise. There is definitely an element of Dr Frank N Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show in his interpretation of the devilish elderly woman. Further entertainment factor is provided by Kate Craggs, Madeleine Knight and Joel Gorf, who transform into a number of hilarious characters in the blink of an eye, and by Edward Cole in his interpretation of main character Erwin. And of course, a Nabokov tale wouldn’t be a Nabokov tale without a hint of longing, which is best portrayed by Luke Courtier, as Alexey, the most desperate of romantics.This production provides all-round entertainment: Belka Productions do an honest job of paying homage and doing justice to the man who inspired the creation of A Dashing Fellow. Definitely one for the Nabokov fans.  By Nastassja Smart

And a partially misinformed preview: 

Nabokov on stage: Belka Productions present a new Russian-inspired play

russianmind's picture

Submitted by russianmind on Thu, 01/16/2014 - 22:03 

·         Event Guide

Nabokov on stage: Belka Productions present a new Russian-inspired play

This spring the young theatre company Belka Productions will present their latest adaptation of Russian literature for the stage with A Dashing Fellow. Already acclaimed for their rendering of A Warsaw Melody by Azerbaijani-born Leonid Zorin and Sunstroke, inspired by the writings of Anton Chekhov and Ivan Bunin, Belka Productions now move on to one of the twentieth century’s most famous masters of the imagination – Vladimir Nabokov.

A Dashing Fellow merges [two] Nabokovian short stories, dynamically adapted for the British stage for the first time by director Oleg Mirochnikov. Set amidst the crumbling decadence of Europe in 1930, one man's desire takes him far beyond the boundaries of human decency as he seduces a married woman and fellow train passenger. Another man's crippling shyness leads him into a thrilling Faustian pact with the Devil herself, who promises him all the women he pleases. For both of them, a desperate bargain struck in a time of crisis leads to devastating consequences.[  ] His first nine novels, including these two stories, were written in Russian, but the majority of his work was composed in beautiful and intricate English. Following Belka’s clever staging of two short stories alongside each other in their recent play, Sunstroke, there is much to look forward to in next year’s Nabokovian double-bill. [  ] Both Sunstroke and A Warsaw Melody garnered a string of excellent reviews, with the latter featuring as Critics Choice in The Times for the duration of its run. It is exciting to see a new company in London focussing exclusively on Russian-inspired theatre and acting as a strong focus for Anglo-Russian cultural exchange. Formed in 2011 by actors Oliver King, Rosy Benjamin and director Oleg Mirochnikov, the company is named in honour of one of the first Russian dogs in space. Belka was launched from Russian mission control in August 1960 and became the first dog to actually orbit and return alive. By adapting classic Russian texts for British audiences, the young company hopes to continue Belka’s pioneering work, albeit in the arts! With 2014 now designated as the UK-Russia Year of Culture, A Dashing Fellowcomes at a particularly appropriate time to celebrate the achievements of Russian cultural figures. Belka are also currently co-producing the West End transfer of the Mossovet Theatre and Andrei Konchalovsky’s Russian-languageproductions of Chekhov’s Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya, which will be staged at Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End in April 2014. [  ]In A Dashing Fellow, Vladimir Nabokov’s sumptuous dream worlds of fantasy and nightmare will undoubtedly be made vividly real and unforgettable by Belka Productions.




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