ʻNo parties, no orgiesʼ. Thus spoke Valentina (Harriet Myzak-Douglas), the embittered landlady within whoʼs ex-mental asylum this most recent adaptation of Alexander Galinʼs legendary play by the York Drama Society takes place. ʻStars in the morning skyʼ is a surreal, interweaving hour and a half of mystery that does not fail to portray the haphazard and volatile nature of the lives of 1980ʻs Russiaʼs lower class, nor the harsh joy that could be ﬂeeting found within them as well.
Forced out of Moscow by the authorities wanting to show a ʻclean Russiaʼ to the world media in preparation for the 1980 Olympic Games, protagonist Laura (Lily Cooper) from the very start seems surrounded by mystery, ignoring Valentinaʼs seemingly unnecessary probing questions. Her image as a member of the foreign bourgeoisie is subsequently down throughout the play, before she is realised as a Moscow prostitute. Alongside this run the complex tales of Anna (Georgie Du Mello-Kenyon), a wasted vodka-fuelled aid to Valentina, Lauraʼs fellow prostitute cum ʻfriendʼ Klara (Lucy Lesley), escaped mental patient Alexander (Patrick Forrester) and under-age, pregnant Maria (Alex Kampfner), whose lover Nikolai (Lewis Dunn) must choose between the wishes of his mother and his lover throughout the play.
Galinʼs play is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a challenging one to perform within an hour and half. Yet the actors seemed to ﬂourish because of this – the lack of lighting and sound effects, combined with the fact there was but one blackout during the entire play, allowed the cast to use the stage as a solid foundation around which to weave – and often double back upon – their intricate tales and lies, to phenomenal effect. Although Dunn was sometimes slightly wooden, almost not knowing quite how to hold himself, and Myzak-
Douglasʼ stuttering of lines was on occasion noted, their performances were otherwise solid. Myzak-Douglas was especially effective as the detached voice of authority within the house – personifying in her ruling of her son, a policeman, perhaps the ʻrealʼ authority of Galinʼs Russia; that of the strong minded individual, over any merited by a badge or uniform.
The intensity of Kampfnerʼs performance increased throughout. Although her initial conversation with Dunn was somewhat stilted, her on-stage presence toward the ﬁnal half of the play was magnetic, a terrifyingly calm, blood-splattered victim in the midst of a house of screaming manics. And it was this portrayal of sudden bouts of hysteria that moved the play from being simply ʻgoodʼ to what it in fact was. Forrester was fantastic throughout in being both quite obviously insane yet not over-egging it, and Mello- Kenyonʼs sudden, furious attack upon his claiming that Mary Magdalen was ʻscientiﬁcally speakingʼpotentially a raped whore showed more than anything her control as an actress – often it is too easy to get ʻcarried awayʼ in roles such as hers and lose the clarity of the character. This is something that, although possible in such a play, did not happen once.
Lesleyʼs late arrival as Klara, and her subsequent treatment by the unseen presence of her and Lauraʼs pimps highlighted the emotional divide between men and women eloquently, and again, with no hint of ʻover-eggingʼ it merely for the sake of emotive response, this added yet another dimension to an already complex commentary on 1980ʼs Russian society. This complexity, however nuanced, was carried out throughout the performance with such realism that the evening became what one could only describe as surreal in the most naturalistic of ways. Overall, a fantastic, detailed performance that grew as it went on.