BWW Reviews: FATHERS AND SONS, Donmar Warehouse, June 10 2014
The rift between old and new generations is put under the microscope in Brian Friel's FATHERS AND SONS, an adaption of the 19th century Russian novel of the same name. In this new production at London's tiny Donmar Warehouse a fantastic company pull out the wit and emotion in an otherwise philosophical and verbose play.
Arkady Kirsanov (Joshua James) returns home to his father Nikolai's (Anthony Calf) estate after graduation, and brings with him a friend. As the young men expand on their nihilist philosophy, the older generation, portrayed by Nikolai's brother Pavel (Tim McMullen), show a growing unease towards the revolutionary zeal of the young. But will love cure them of their nihilist tendencies - or is it merely a social construct that needs to be destroyed to rebuild Russia for the better?
Lyndsey Turner's production really focuses on the emotional relationship between the older and the younger generation. it is a fast-paced, well timed and witty production that produced plenty of laughs. Susan Engel's wonderful cameo as the elderly Princess Olga is a perfectly judged demonstration of surreal grumpiness. McMullen's camp uncle Pavel also delivers a well balanced portrayal that never quite crossed the line into pantomime.
Joshua James plays the wide eyed youth with great enthusiasm; we see his idolisation of the flawed Bazarov (Seth Numrich) and his inner turmoil between the need to be a perfect son as well as a perfect nihilist. Numrich also impresses as the deeply troubled prodigal son - unable to truly accept the love his parents seem desperate to show him. The most touching scene of the play appears when Bazarov's parents (Karl Johnson and Lindy Whiteford) hear of his success at university through Arkady, much to their son's later annoyance.
The Donmar has a well earned reputation for impressive set design, and Rob Howell's imagining of a 19th century Russian estate continues in this tradition. Clever transitions between the Kirsanov's outdoor veranda and the Bazarov's indoor dining room are very effective and set changes never distract too much from the flow of the production.
This is a charming and entertaining production, if perhaps focusing more on the emotion and wit than the underlying social issues.