Review: To See Salisbury
Image courtesy RADA
Boshirov - James Marlowe
Petrov - Oliver Bennett
Skvortsov - Nicholas Boulton
Dementia Petrovna - Irina Selezniova-Horner
Last year the city of Salisbury became infamous for being the site of a showdown within the Russian secret service involving the new poison Novichok - a Russian word now firmly embedded in British reality.
Over a year on and the theatre world has yet to respond to this significant event.
Victor Shenderovich is a well know anti-Putin satirist in Russia.
He has responded to this event with a funny and darkly surreal play that explores fake news, cultural identity and the fragile relationship between Russia and Britain.
A collaboration between HUNCHtheatre and Stage RC, RADA Festival introduces a new author to an English audience and explore this topical and complex issue
A timely coincidence connects this play with events today in Japan.
It's the G20 summit - the talking shop where the wealthy states get together for a chin-wag, over some haute cuisine and hugely expensive vintage wine, to savour their self-proclaimed status as rulers of the global economic system.
But the usual self-congratulatory mood is marred on this occasion as departing British Prime Minister Theresa May confronts Russia's President Putin about events last year in the inoffensive British city of Salisbury.
The BBC carries a photo this morning from the summit with Mrs May looking seriously vacant (or vacantly serious) with Mr Putin barely hiding a grin that has the hallmarks of a cat that's just scoffed another's cream, or a naughty schoolboy who's just got away scot-free with another audacious raid on the local corner shop.
Mrs May is anxious to bring to justice the perpetrators of a crime committed last year in Salisbury when the hugely toxic poison Novichok was used in the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March 2018.
According to Mrs May, the evidence points to two Russian men being the culprits, having been caught on a video trail of CCTV footage that shows them travelling from London to the cathedral city at the time the crimes were committed.
In an extraordinary twist to the real-life story, Mr Putin decided to parade the two men (once back in their homeland) on Russian TV, whereupon they claimed to have merely been visiting Salisbury as tourists to relish the sights including the fine cathedral, renowned for its spire and clock.
Playing as part of this year's RADA Festival, To See Salisbury initially takes us back to the days of last year's events.
Two men, Boshirov and Petrov are returning to Russia after a visit to Salisbury, and are alarmed to find themselves inexplicably in the limelight having been fingered by the British authorities.
Far from being Russian agents, the two men claim to be merely conducting a clandestine gay love affair.
But now they are terrified by their unexpected, sudden, and unwanted infamy and don't know what to do next.
However, they soon fall under the spell of Nicholas Boulton's sinister and scary Mr Starling (Skvortsov) who seems to be some kind of war-mongering, megalomaniac spymaster who claims that Putin is merely a puppet.
James Marlowe and Oliver Bennett give highly credible, pitch-perfect performances as the frantic gay lovers caught-up in a tale of political intrigue and espionage, providing many laugh-out-loud moments as their plight unfolds.
Projections of real footage from news reports, as well a neat scene in a Russian train, suitably embellish proceedings and lend a note of background authenticity.
And, perhaps predictably, symbolically important items such as Russian dolls and vodka inveigle their way into the overall concept, especially in the second half where the focus widens and events become more extreme once Nicholas Boulton's spooky character takes control.
And there's good work too from Irina Selezniova-Horner providing supporting characters including 'Mother' (Mother Russia?) who has been blinded by the injudicious use of poison.
In spite of the deliberately satyrical nature of this well-written and comedic piece, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the Skripals suffered life-threatening injuries through their exposure to Novichok, surviving thanks only to the good offices and exceptional skill of medical staff.
Moreover, in the aftermath, a man became seriously ill as a consequence of finding the remains of the Novichok, which had been concealed in a perfume bottle, and a woman died after spraying the poison on her wrist.
Those matters of course lend a sombre aftertaste to the humorous moments in the play.
But that doesn't negate the approach since the piece largely focuses on the bizarre nature of the crime and the dubious political chicanery that brought it about.
And, in a more general sense, the play reminds us that real life is often much more ludicrously astonishing and surreal than any work of fiction.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for RADA
Our show listing for To See Salisbury
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