Children of the Sun
It started so well. The clever revolving set moving at a pace and the rousing, sophisticated music seemed to promise a drama that might be best viewed from the edge of your seat. The fast pace continued. Characters and complications were introduced at speed and because we live in a 30 second sound bite world, we got what Maxim Gorky wanted us to know just as quickly as the message was delivered.
And then something happened, or rather didn’t.
About half way through the first act it became clear that nothing that mattered was going to happen. The pitch remained the same, the two dimensional characters simply sharpened the edges of their two dimensional form. The brilliant but mad characters, brother and sister, Protasov and Liza (Toby Truslove and Jacqueline McKenzie) got madder. The sentimental lover – Boris (Chris Ryan)– got positively soppy. The poncy artist Vageen (Hamish Michael) and the desperate Melaniya (Helen Thompson) became poncier and more desperate. The central figure of hope Yelena (Justine Clarke) a human doormat caught in a strange relationship; momentarily toughened up and opened the door to a ruckus outside that was bewildering to most of the characters.
Perhaps it is possible to find contemporary relevancies, or timelessness to the work, such as uprising against complacency, or the have-nots having had enough of the haves. Arguments can be made in defense of the play’s airing. Are they compelling arguments?
At the end of the play, one of the country’s finest exponents of the theatrical/drama business who was not involved with this production, leaned in and quietly said – “it’s a melodrama.”
Mmmmaybe there is a place in a company’s repertoire to throw in an old, irrelevant, classic melodrama. But maybe there is not. Hot on the heels of a production of Macbeth, that got the town talking, comes Children of the Sun, a production with so much – superb cast, top director, brilliant set and wonderful music –yet the work itself demands and elicits precisely nothing from its audience. It’s not fairy floss, rather chop and three veg. Great practitioners need great material. Audiences go to see drama, to be absorbed and have their thinking challenged; cats have to get amongst the pigeons.
No doubt Gorky succeeded in unsettling his audience a century ago – the pigeons of 2014 need stronger, perhaps more ferocious cats to set their audiences aflutter.