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September 29, 2008 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

The Little Tragedies

Written by the Russian Romanticist Alexander Pushkin, The Little Tragedies is a series of three short plays based on various European stories. These classic myths range from a tale about Mozart and Salieri we might recognise from the movie Amadeus, to a story about the infamous Don Juan and a cheeky statue. Director Slava Stepnov has cooked up some fine performances from his cast, but overall the product is messy and at times very confusing.

The main problem with the show is clarity. I had no idea what was happening. The tales were for the most part unfamiliar to me and it took me some time to work out that I was watching three plays, not just one. It also took me time to work out at which point a story had ended and a new one had started. This was not at all aided by the transitions. Scene changes within a story seemed the same as scene changes when starting a new story – confusion ensued. This could have been rectified by stronger concluding scenes or more pronounced changes in costume and space.

The set looks very nice, making use of various geometric shapes such as pyramids and spheres which stand in as gravestones and chairs respectively at various times. However the set is too abstract to achieve any sense of place, something which is sorely needed to be able to follow the show.

Despite shortfalls in some areas, the acting is a sure credit. Gene Alexander is as pleasant to the eyes and ears as he has always been, while Antonia Bale gives a delicate performance as a widow in the second segment. Incidentally, the make-out scene between the two is pretty darn good, even though they never really pash. Matt Clayton holds his ground on stage and still manages to woo the audience even though he has to suffer through some inconsequential anti-Semitism early on, while Sarah Lineham’s voice is as beautiful and commanding as always. Yet the standout performance comes from Phil Darkins, whose superb line delivery and baritone voice turn some dismally long stretches of monologue into liquid gold.

Despite my criticism of the use of the transitions, they are in themselves some of the most dynamic moments of the play. The swirling shadows and colours during the tra nsitions are a welcome reprieve from the wordy scenes, and the soundscape during these transitions is remarkable. Here, James Dunlop’s compositions demonstrate an exciting edge which I relished and wish to hear more of.

At times, The Little Tragedies manages to inject some wicked humour into what would otherwise be relatively dry theatre. I may not have enjoyed everything about the show, but it is certainly valuable to see the kind of work which the far-off land of New York (where half of the company which put this together are based) has to offer.

Written by Alexander Pushkin
Directed by Slava Stepnov
At Bats
23 September – 4 October


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