Review: THE SUICIDE at The Studio, Holden Street Theatres

A long-banned Russian classic.

By: May. 26, 2023
Review: THE SUICIDE at The Studio, Holden Street Theatres

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 25th May 2023.

Red Phoenix, the multi-award-winning resident company at Holden Street Theatres, is back with The Suicide, a dark comedy from 1924 by Russian writer, Nikolai Erdman, translated by Peter Tegel. Exchanging their usual roles, this one is directed by Brant Eustice, with his brother, Michael, in the cast. Brant Eustice has assembled an excellent cast and married the hilarious script with a plethora of physical comedy that results in endless laughter.

It is a large and talented cast, that also includes Kate Anolak, Joshua Coldwell, Jess Corrie, Samuel Creighton, Ruby Faith, Ron Hoenig, David Lockwood, Callum Logan, Sharon Malujlo, Geoff Revell, Nicole Rutty, Russell Slater, Georgia Stockham, Tom Tassone, Bobbie Viney, and Malcolm Walton.

The play was banned by Stalin, and Erdman spent twenty years of his life in a Siberian work camp, never seeing it performed. Director, Vsevolod Meyerhold, spent two years attempting to have it staged, before being sentenced to face a firing squad for treason, and shot the next day.

Semyon Podsekalnikov, played by Joshua Coldwell, has been unemployed for a year, and does not have a permit to work. He attempts to overcome his depression by learning to play the tuba, which could lead to work and a good income. He has a small pamphlet that claims that playing the tuba, an instrument borrowed from Margarita Ivanovna, can be learned in twenty lessons. This proves more problematic than he expected when he discovers that he also needs a piano to learn the scales, so he begins to think about ending his life. As word of his intention spreads, a number of weird and wonderful folk want to jump on his bandwagon to gain publicity for their businesses or causes. Each person attempts to convince him to name them in his final act.

Coldwell is sensational in the role, making the most of every word in the script in the first act, then developing the physicality in the second act, when Semyon spends most of the time pretending to be dead. His powerful closing speeches are moving.

Bobbie Viney plays his recently married wife, Maria Lukianovna, who works twelve hours a day in a factory, and on whose wage they rely. Viney gives us a sensible, loving wife, in a strong performance as a strong woman. Her histrionics when she thinks her husband is dead ad a great deal to the humour.

Serafima Illinichna, his mother-in-law, who lives with them, is played by Sharon Malujlo This is another fine performance from her, and the highlight is Serafima’s attempt at being seductive.

His neighbour, Alexander Petrovich, played by Geoff Revell, is the owner of the local shooting gallery who lost his wife a week before. He has nighttime visits for ‘conversations about his wife’ with Margarita Ivanovna, portrayed by Kate Anolak. He sees a way to make money by acting as the intermediary between Semyon and those wishing to exploit his suicide, having them bid for Semyon’s endorsement. Revell turns in one more in a long line of wonderful performances, and is well-balanced by Anolak’s fun characterisation.

If Commedia dell’Arte comes to mind, it is no surprise. The stock characters are all there, starting with these five who can be seen as Arlecchino, Columbina, the Crone, Brighella, and Francheschina. There’s also more than a hint of Brechtian theatre in the presentation of this production.

Speaking on behalf of the intelligentsia, who have suffered at the hands of the proletariat, is Michael Eustice, as Aristarch Dominikovich Grand-Skubnik. His hairstyling alone is worth the price of admission. He is wonderful as the oily politician, the first in the line of petitioners, all of whom are thoroughly self-centred and unpleasant..

Ron Hoenig injects anger into Pugachov, the butcher, trying to elevate his character’s claim in the face of more ideological concerns. Tom Tassone plays Egor the postman, presenting a staunch Marxist who, in his enthusiasm for that ideology, shows it in a very bad light. Tassone is great as the bombastic zealot. Father Elpidi is played by Russell Slater, clearly displaying the priest’s fear of the suppression of religion under the new regime. Viktor Viktorovich, the writer whose greatness is all in his imagination, is portrayed by Samuel Creighton, playing on Viktor’s desperation in the face of the regime’s disdain of the Arts.

Nicole Rutty is hilarious as the larger-than-life Cleopatra Maximovna, past lover of Viktor who wants him back, and Georgia Stockham, as Zinka, with Ruby Faith, as Raissa Filipovna, have some very funny conversations. Malcolm Walton, Callum Logan, and David Lockwood add their fine performances to complete yet another winning production from Red Phoenix.

Kate Precott’s skeletal set design is superb, and equally well-lit by the almost omnipresent, Richard Parkhill, who lights so many of Adelaide’s theatre productions. Lisa Lanzi designed the many very varied costumes, and Sean Smith and Brant Eustice are the clever pair who came up with the most eclectic collection of music to accompany the scene changes. Returning to thoughts of Michael Eustice’s coiffure, Anne-Louise Smith is responsible for all of the hairstyles in the production.

Opening night was, predictably, sold out. With Red Phoenix, it it would be rare to mention a performance that wasn’t sold out. This is another sure-fire hit for Red Phoenix. Don’t delay for a moment, book your tickets right now.

Photography, Richard Parkhill.

2023 Regional Awards

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