LAST WEEKEND, An Taibhdhearc hosted one of Russia’s premier theatre companies, U Mosta, from Perm, which presented two plays - Nikolai Gogol’s Marriage and Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan.
This is the type of pedigree international theatre we normally only see here at festival time - and in recent years even the Galway International Arts Festival has preferred English-language shows when programming overseas acts. Speaking of languages, it was a novel experience to hear the sound of Russian dominate the pre-show chit-chat in the An Taibhdhearc foyer as the city’s Russian community turned out in force for the occasion.
Gogol’s 1834 play, Marriage, depicts the comic shenanigans as four suitors contend for the hand of a young woman, Agafya (Ekaterina Ponomareva ). The suitors are the vacillating Podkolyosin (Ilia Baboshin ), bluff ex-navy officer Zhevakin (Viacheslav Leurdo ), dandyish Anuchkin (Sergei Melnikov ), and the clerk Yaichnitsa (Vladimir Ilin ), whose name means ‘Omelette’. Driving much of the action is the energetic Kochkaryov (Vasili Skidanov ), who wants Agafya to marry his friend Podkolyosin.
The play is often done as a farce, but director Sergei Fedotov imbued it with a layer of supernatural activity as drawers opened and closed without visible aid, candles ignited or died of their own will, and Kochkaryov was as much Puckish sprite as scheming mortal. Zestful performances from the ensemble, allied to atmospheric lighting and sound (including the music ), made this a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
The following night U Mosta transplanted themselves to Martin McDonagh’s version of the Aran Islands with The Cripple of Inishmaan. Set in 1934, Hollywood director Robert Flaherty comes to Inishmore to make Man Of Aran. On Inis Meáin, no one is more excited than Cripple Billy Claven who yearns to escape the gossip, poverty, boredom, back-biting, and genial cruelty of his neighbours. While Billy’s fantasy of breaking into film prompts wild hilarity among the islanders they are soon astonished to learn that, after making his way to Inis Mór, he is invited to Hollywood.
Fedotov’s version of the play did not stray far from the original, though his staging did suggested McDonagh’s characters would be just as home on the Steppes as in the west of Ireland. Amid all the islanders’ squabbles and spites, Fedotov pointed up those moments of kindness that acted as saving graces when set beside their more frequent harshness. As with Marriage, there were fine performances throughout, including Skidanov’s vivid Cripple Billy, Marina Shilova and Ponomareva as his gruff yet loving ‘aunties’ Kate and Eileen, Maria Novichenko as the feisty Slippy Helen, Viachislev Leurdo as the Doctor and Baboshin as gossipmonger Johnnypateenmike.
Both plays ended with striking visual scenes/tableaux which lifted the characters out of their mundane setting on to a more emblematic plane. Marriage had Podkolyosin and Agyafa standing as though at an altar yet apart, while Kochkaryo is off to the side, only the glow of his cigarette enduring as the lights fade. Cripple had the moving scene where Billy drags himself upright to walk arm in arm with Helen and, a few moments later, the play concludes with him alone amid the sounds and visuals of Man of Aran projected around him.
As Galway builds toward 2020, let us hope we have more opportunities of seeing companies like U Mosta visit us.