Young Critics Review – A Provincial Life

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Written and Directed by: Peter Gill
Sherman Cymru – Thu 01 Mar 2012 – Sat 17 Mar 2012A blue light shining on a solitary figure, against a back drop of 40ft high pine sections gave us the first glimpse of the blank platform from which NTW would tell the long, slightly erratic story of a young, wealthy man in 1890s Russia. Against his father’s wishes, Misail (Nicholas Shaw) decides to pursue happiness and worth by living the Provincial Life of a manual worker, rather than take up a vocation that will ensure his families prestige and money filters through to his generation.
The story unfolds in scenes broken up by set changes that, though fluid, and full of elegant props and costumes, almost become scenes in themselves due to the length of them. For me, these moments were mildly interesting, but mostly a waste of valuable stage time. However, it did help keep the pace steady and slow; something that seemed deliberate, as a reflection of life.
Though slow, the story was thought provoking, asking questions about what wealth matters when there are so many who live on the other side of money, a theme that is relevant today.
Shaw’s portrayal of a young man enduring constant inner turmoil from his inability to find happiness, no matter what path he takes his life down, is convincing. Unfortunately, no matter how convincing, it didn’t endear him to this theatre goer; I struggled to feel any empathy for him, no matter how many mini monologues were spouted about how unhappy and unfulfilled by life he was.
Luckily, these moments were often lent an element of Chekhov’s humour; John-Paul Macloed, playing Ivan – the odd and weedy country friend of Misail, provided many of these, which were executed perfectly and got the most reaction from the audience.
The female’s stories were, for me, far more interesting than Misail’s – while he’s busy moaning about how his father doesn’t want to know him because he has turned his back on their way of life, his sister Cleopatra is left alone with her father, and the usual lack of prospects of a woman in the 19th Century. A sickly girl, she deteriorates throughout the play, bursts of life and excitement amid the mundanity.
Other notable performances were Alex Clatworthy, playing Maria (the love interest), Mark Lewis as Victor Dolzhikov (the explosive Engineer), Sara Lloyd-Gregory as Cleopatra Poloznev, William Thomas as Andrey Ivanov (the Contractor and friend of Misail), and Lee Haven-Jones, playing Boris Blagovo (the revered Doctor).
On the whole, the performance was a little uninspiring, and would have benefited from an injection of action…and a few less sections of monologuing. But it looked beautiful, and there were some stellar moments that made up for the not so exciting ones. Provincial, indeed.
If you’re interested in seeing A Provincial Life, it runs until Saturday March 17th. Book now through Sherman Cymru.

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