M A R T I N   F O R E M A N

Playwright / Director

"utterly convincing portraits of love " Broadway World

" .. strong piece of theatre" Broadway Baby

"emotionally charged and thought-provoking theatre" The Gay UK

"a masterclass on the art of the monologue" Beige

"words always deeply poetic" Views from the Gods

" .. well acted and craftily staged" britishtheatreguide.info

".. thoroughly enjoyable .. have you laughing" All Edinburgh Theatre

Home Director Actor Playscripts Contact

Review of THE LOWER DEPTHS: June 2012

Luka, a vagrant
The Lower Depths
by Maxim Gorky (adaptation)
directed by Victor Sobchak and Shaban Arifi
Lord Stanley Theatre, London

Picture by Victor Sobchak

9 June 2012
(No stars, very positive)

Jacob Taee (Vassily) and Nicholas Kempsey (Satin)

behind: Jacqueline Coombs (Tatiana) front: Ellen Sussams (Katya)

photos: Victor Sobchak

The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky is the Russian radical writer's most famous stage play and remains an essential and influential part of twentieth century drama. The play's tough, uncompromising naturalism depicts the misery of the dregs of the socially and economically dispossessed (alcoholics, former prisoners, and a prostitute) living in a housing shelter at the bottom of society and viciously exploited by a landlord and landlady: it caused great controversy when it first opened. There is no doubting Gorky's trenchant social and political criticism of Tsarist Russia which comes close to suggesting the inevitability of the need for revolutionary change. The original production at the Moscow Arts Theatre helped consolidate the career of Stanislavki, who both directed and starred; while it laid the way for the literary style known as socialist realism. It has been staged and adapted into widely different national contexts throughout the world and important films of it have been made by such directors as Jean Renoir, Cheetan Anand, Akira Kurosawa and Huang Zolin.

Gorky's star has declined in recent years, so it is highly commendable that this adventurous and ambitious fringe theatre company, Theatre Collection, have chosen to give us a rare chance to see this classic European play. There are 13 actors in the large cast and directors Victor Sobchak and Shaban Arifi have created an exciting, visceral piece of theatre within a limited stage space. The text has not only been thoughtfully cut to make it manageable, but has had its translation sharpened to bring it up to date. The directors boldly see the play as relevant to today: the gradual erosion of living standards, government austerity plans and economic cuts which are forcing more and more people into despair and hardship as they drop into the 'lower depths' of society.

There is some sharp character acting here in an effective ensemble piece and this is crucial as the richly depicted characters and the interaction between them are at the play's centre. It seems unfair to single out some actors rather than others, but I particularly liked Jacob Taee's Vassily, played as a noble, romantic and emotionally needy thief (who looks much like the youthful Gorky) and Martin Foreman's Luka, the old man/tramp, a monk-like spiritual figure whose questions prompt much of the action. Mark Forester- Evans (Dimitry) and Casey Dearing (Olga) create a memorably nasty pairing of landlord and landlady. Ellen Sussam's Katya is a beautiful, feisty but nervy prostitute, while Nicholas Kempsey's Satin is the deeply angry con-man with surprising potential for political consciousness. Jacob Trennery puts on his airs and graces successfully as the former aristocrat come alcoholic and Jacqueline Coomb's Tatyana is the strong and resourceful woman who will eventually profit from disaster. The directorial decision to use a wide range of English accents both regional and in terms of social class is an effective one; descent into these depths can happen to anyone.

In the end the play is certainly gloomy, but this is alloyed by mordant humour, the passion of the characters and their resilience to the life they lead. Some of them may need illusions in order to get through their miserable days and some may dream about personal or political or social change: these stories are the stuff of their lives. This cogent production successfully brings out the urgency and vitality of Gorky's most important play.

Steve Barfield

view / follow me on: