Review: Dying For It
Image: The Courtyard
Lizi Carey - Aristarkh
Clara Casamayor - Margarita
Shaine Marie Davis - Serafima
Delia Fiordilino - Father Yelpidy
Kat Kitchener - Masha
John Lutula - Alexander
Thomas Michael-Williams - Viktor
Layla Morrell - Semyon
Roisin Owens - Kiki
Simon Palmer - Yegor
Samuel Ferman - Stepan
Andrew Beswick - Oleg
Hallway-dwelling Semyon is unemployed and disheartened with life.
When his last hope at turning his life around disappears he decides to commit suicide, only to find that a number of people would like him to die on their behalf.
On the night of the deed, a party grows towards a glorious climax.
Moira Buffini has freely adapted Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide, which was banned by Stalin before a single performance, to create Dying For It.
Moira Buffini's 2007 comedy is based on Nikolai Erdman's 1928 play The Suicide which was never performed in his lifetime, having been banned during the Stalinist era.
But if Stalin thought Erdman's work might undermine his authority through dramatic subversion, the play, at least in Moira Buffini's free adaptation, would hardly inflict much of a dent in anyone's political armour because it is not an incisive condemnation of the communist philosophy, but rather points a satirical finger at human nature.
It is, though, a gloriously humorous tale that distorts the tragic matter of suicide into a farcical episode where others cash-in on one man's intentions to relieve himself of the pain of a fruitless life.
Dickon Tyrrell's production starts off with both audience and stage in the dark.
It's the middle of the night when Semyon awakes and finds he's peckish.
So he wakes his wife to ask if there's any black pudding left.
That minor nocturnal disturbance leads to much more than a mere snack, setting off a train of thought that has wider implications.
It transpires that Semyon is unemployed and has to rely on his wife's labours for his very existence.
They live in a slum where a motley group of people live cheek-by-jowl.
Semyon is fed-up with being out of work and claims his wife and mother-in-law are 'crucifying' him with black pudding by deliberately giving him the lion's share of their meagre provisions.
Fed-up with his employment situation and life in general, he contemplates suicide.
He's diverted from that path, however, on discovering a manual for playing the tuba and hopes to make a killing from performances once he has mastered the oversized instrument.
But his progress is halted when he discovers he needs a piano to learn scales and his thoughts once more return to contriving his death.
At that point others decide to cash-in on the opportunity that his suicide might afford them.
It's almost a notion of suicide by proxy where intellectuals, women, marxists and others fetch up to persuade the hapless Semyon to kill himself and leave a note declaring their particular causes, gripes and protestations which they would like to be heard.
Therein lies Erdman's inventive and satirical genius which offers copious opportunities for rich, dry humour and Moira Buffini's script takes full advantage of both the situational set-up and the multifarious characters willing to see one man die to further their own dubious ambitions.
Dickon Tyrrell's commendably sound production is intuitively well-paced and engaging, though some of the minor roles would have benefitted from stronger directorial focus.
Layla Morrell confidently takes the lead here as the luckless, unemployable Semyon who has a penchant for eggnog.
She's well-supported by Shaine Marie Davis as mother-in-law Serafima and Kat Kitchener's Masha.
There's stylish work from Clara Casamayor as Margarita, and John Lutula impresses as Alexander who cashes-in on Semyon's impending demise, and there's good work from Simon Palmer as the voyeuristic postman Yegor, the only devoted marxist among the pack and the one who pays the ultimate price.
Though Moira Buffini preserves the essential comic inventiveness of Nikolai Erdman's earlier work, she nevertheless manages to suitably punctuate her version of events with an element of poignancy that reminds us of the essential tragedy of an act of suicide.
And this version of her play is certainly well-worth seeing - splendidly comic and distinctly entertaining into the bargain.
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