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THE CHAMBER OF STAGE
«Nastasya Filippovna».
The New Drama Theatre
Newspaper «Kultura», October 2, 2008
Irina Alpatova

The last theatre season was rather barren with events and experiments, and the Moscow theatres begin the new season exactly with that in mind. Their production cannot be named trivial, be it a stage blockbuster «A Blue Monster» of «Satirikon» or the première in question of the New Drama Theatre made in «chamber size». The aim is one and the same — to go away from the stage conventions and to experiment with the form as well as with the content.

The New Drama Theatre and its director Vyacheslav Dolgachev try not to yield to the more «accessible» companies inside the Garden Ring of the capital. Sometimes it surprises the audience with repertoire discoveries and curious interpretations, being actually ahead of the pack. This time the theater dared to make a risky move — to produce an improvisational show. This is a unique example in the modern theatrical context.

However, this was not the only risk. Needless to say that the modern theaters, bent on making the «light» shows for the so called mass audience, choose the works of Dostoyevsky as the last thing, because they are so gloomy and uneasy, irritating the soul of an actor as well as of a visitor. The soul is already overburdened with the everyday survival. Yet there is a kind of the solution, that is to use the Small Stage, to invite the «chosen ones» who are able to think and to share their emotions. But the chamber form of «Nastasya Filippovna» for the director Dolgachev is not a mere utilitarian function. It is also a special aesthetics of the short-range foreground, a means to increase the energy of the show. Although it can hardly be called «a show», the light being faded, the minimal volume of the sound, the music doesn’t follow the change of the emotions. Here we have the synchronous process of entering the Dostoyevsky’s world, of understanding it and experiencing it, the human reaction on it.

The idea of such an improvisational performance after Dostoyevsky’s «Idiot» belongs to the famous Polish director Andrzej Wajda. However there were quite a lot of dramatists in Polish theater making such experiments, iconic Jerzy Grotowsky among them. The essence is that the novel should be thoroughly reread, all the main dialogues should be learnt by heart and it should be understood what is the beginning and what is the end of the conventional stage version. Here the beginning and the end are looped with the last meeting of Myshkin and Rogozhin at the corpse of Nastasya Filippovna. The actual number and actual sequence of scenes depend from many reasons; they may be the momentary mood of the actors, the emergence of a certain theme, the stream of consciousness, etc. As a result, each evening (10 days in total) we have another peculiar and unique version of «Nastasya Filippovna».

This uniqueness is doubled because the role of Myshkin is played by two actors, Mikhail Kalinichev and Nikita Alferov. It is clear for all who know the stage process of the New Drama Theater, that these are absolutely different persons. They differ in their individuality and temperament, in their stage manners and perhaps even in their understanding Dostoyevsky’s work and characters. But Rogozhin is only one, Andrey Kurilov. The situation probably is even more difficult for him, because he needs to choose the proper tune and not to «drop the action». Although, in many scenes Rogozhin-Kurilov himself is the tuning fork and the initiator of the next action.


Parfen Rogozhin — Andrey Kurilov,
Myshkin — Mikhail Kalinichev.

As you see, only two actors are to represent all the multidimensional complexity of Dostoyevsky’s novel. They are the mirrors to reflect Aglaya, Ganya Ivolgin, drunken soldier who sold the cross to Myshkin, the unknown person condemned to death, and the same woman, whose name is in the title of the play. Only her immaterial ghost is left here, the white gown and the portrait on the table. But all these reflections are dissolved in the half-darkness, when the minds of Myshkin and Rogozhin are already distorted. All this looks like a nightmare or a feverish raving, when «you got to remember the most important thing», but memories come one after another, shoving each other, mixing the logical course of events.

The space of the play is not only the Rogozhin’s flat. The stage artist Margarita Demyanova is a master of making the general image of any theatre space out of different hints and obvious signs. The floor is covered with motley carpets and rugs, as if collected from different homes, the things are as cluttered as the memory of the characters.

The characters themselves cannot be helped, not a single outward trick can encourage the action. Two characters and two actors come into the show and begin to «build» it before our very eyes, trying to combine their past and their horrible present, and to appreciate it with their feverish minds. When actors pronounce the words of Natalya Filippovna or Aglaya, they need to synthesize in their intonations their own (characters’) momentary attitude towards them.

Each evening they begin a duel of defending their love to nonexistent Nastasya Filippovna. Rogozhin-Kurilov’s feelings and strains are hammered inside him already, he is rather quiet, he rarely tear his shirt. But he is surprising with the depth of his sufferings and with his inability to accept the inevitable end. Mikhail Kalinichev-Myshkin is so natural in actor’s way, that it is not difficult for him to change the image instantly and to assume another emotional mood and physical form. That’s why the whims of his memory look so naturally and absolutely inevitable.

The small audience (there are 48 places in the chamber room) are intrigued with the peculiarity of an action and, perhaps, forget for a time about the difficulty of Dostoyevsky’s text. His words are not only read, they are adapted by the contemporary actors and are made clear and obvious. So it turned out to be quite an easy mutual action, not to say about the benefit of it.
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