Venue: The Drama Barn
Running until: December 12th
Directed by: Laurence Cook
Produced by: Alex Little
The Drunks, by Mikhail and Vyacheslav Durnenkov, is the Drama Barn’s final production of the term, and an arguably ambitious text for a student play to tackle. We follow shell-shocked Ilya: a soldier returning from Chechnya with only the thought of a blissful reunion with his wife and son in mind. Not quite finding his family affairs as he left them, this local hero is soon snapped up and exploited by the mayor, the police chief and a journalist, who are all trying to win over a town that is too busy searching for self-validation at the bottom of a vodka bottle.
With the heavy alcohol consumption, the subdued stage design, and the tangible moral stagnancy in the air, it could have easily been a 2-hour test of even the most avid theatre-goer’s patience. Yet one could tell that both the director and the actors had a firm understanding of the satirical aspects of this play, and they weren’t afraid to deliver on that account. The characters were all so theatrical that they verged on two-dimensional, but nevertheless just worked when placed as the driving forces behind this satire. For instance, just when a scene seemed to be working itself into a drunken, despairing stupor, over-dramatisation and comic timing would save it from taking itself too seriously – Ryan Lane’s “where are those lattes?” being a memorable example.
Indeed, the acting on the whole needs to be commended. There weren’t any roles that required particular subtlety or nuance, but it was obvious that everyone was giving it their all and fully immersing themselves into their characters. Even very caricaturised moments of masculine bravado – which for the sleazy town mayor and the crass police chief were many – fit the tone well, serving to emphasise Ilya’s detached stillness and simple morality. Evidently, there was good communication and a clear vision of every character between the director, the producer, the cast and the crew. A word of praise must also go to the level of detail in costume design, which contributed greatly to characterisation and the overall tone.
Nonetheless, two relatively minor points could have benefit from further experimentation: the pacing and the lighting.
Although the actors’ timing was never off, there were some scenes which did start to drag somewhat. At times it would have benefited from slightly shorter silences, which would have still allowed for the verbal emphasis falling in the right place, but would have kept the scene moving. Scene transitions, although ingenious in their audience interaction, could have been more fluid: a few seconds of empty stage between each scene added up to a lot of empty stage.
The lighting was well done, but so much so that we were left wanting more. There was a glimpse of so much potential there such as the impressively subtle change which mirrored the psychological effect of Ilya’s first swig of vodka. As set and prop use was minimal, light could have been used not just well, but daringly – the cold hues even bluer, the spotlights even stronger – so that it too could speak the volumes the actors and the various dramatic techniques were. Yet at the end of the day, these didn’t take away from the fact that this is a very well-conceived, confident production with a distinct style which definitely holds its own amongst the plays of the term.