Sunday, 18 May 2008

"boris godunov" (cheek by jowl / chekhov international theatre festival)

friday 16th may 2008

"boris godunov"
by alexander pushkin

cheek by jowl

director ~ declan donnellan
designer ~ nick ormerod
lighting designer ~ judith greenwood
music director ~ maxim gutkin
choreographer ~ irina filippova
declan donnellan's interpreter & literary consultant ~ dina dodina
assistant directors ~ evgeny pisarev, anna kolesnokova
technical director ~ vladimir kizeev

the company:
gavirila pushkin, pushkin's nephew/shcheklalov, the duma scribe ~ alexy dadonov
boris godunov, the russian tsar ~ alexander feklistov
marina mnishek, yuri mnishek's daughter ~ irina grineva
prince vorotynsky/russian prisoner ~ ilia ilin
father varlaam/karela, the cossack ~ nikolay khmelev
owner of the tavern ~ olga khokholva
poet ~ leonid krasovitsky
grigori otrepyev, a young monk ~ evgeny mironov
prince vasily shuisky ~ sergey lanbamin
father misail/nikolka, the god's fool ~ alexander lenkov
feodor, boris' son/russian boy ~ nikta lukinsarovitch
sobansky/baliff ~ evgeny plekanov
semyon godunov/prince kurbsky ~ dimitry shcherbina
patriarch/yuri mnishek, the polish nobleman ~ oleg vavilov
pimen, the monk/pushkin ~ igor yasulovich
tsarevna xenia, boris daughter ~ elena zakharova
father superior/chief baliff/catholic priest/basmanov, army leader ~ mikhail zhigalov

at the barbican

Pushkin's lyrical masterpiece is a gripping exposé of the seductive appeal of power and the terrible price that must be paid for it. Money, corruption, sex and blood thicken this sinuous and radical play, inspired by Shakespeare's histories.

background to the text:
"boris godunov" was written in 1825 (the same year as the decembrist uprising) when alexander pushkin was in exile on his family's estate. while working on this play, pushkin studied many chronicles, historical treatises, saint's biographies, ancient russian scripts and folk legends, and was particualorly inspired by the work of william shakespeare and the publication of karamazin's "history of russia" in 1824.

"the survey of shakespeare, of karamazin, of our ancient chronicles, gave me the idea to turn into a a dramatic way one of the most tragic eras of modern histroy. i imitated shakespeare's style in what concerns the large and free desrciptions of characters, for extraordinary types, construction and his simplicity. i followwed karamazin in his clear development of events and finally, in the chronicles, i did my best to find out what could have been the form of thinking and speaking at the time."

pushkin was fond of history. his library contained about four hundred historical and philosophical works, and he had read many of the french, english and german authors with revolutionary ideas on history and philosophy.

pushkin disobeys the rules of french tragedy, then dominating the russian stage. disdaining the racinian model there is neither unity of time nor of place. the action unfolds from the 20th february 1598 to 10th june 1605 - a little more than seven years. the play is cut into twenty three little scenes that unfold in numerous different locations - in moscow, in poland, and on the plains of russia. having finished "boris godunov" alexander sergeevitch wrote to his friend vlazemsky:

"my tragedy is written: i was reading it aloud to myself, alone, sat there clapping my hands and shouting "well done, pushkin, well done, son of a bitch ..."
before the play begins . . .
1584 ~ ivan the terrible, the first duke of all russia who had officially called himself "tsar" dies. having murdered his heir in a drunken rage, the throne passses to his next son, feodor. feodor's close friend and brother-in-law, boris godunov, effectively governs russia.

1591 ~ in the city of uglitch, ivan the terrible's youngest son, dimitry, is murdered. a suspicion arises that it is boris who has ordered the child's murder. this plan would ease boris' path to the throne on the death of dimitry's brother tsar feodor.

1598 ~ tsar feodor dies. none of ivan the terrible's sons remain alive so the most likely candidate for the throne - popular with the people and well experienced in managing the state during feodor's reign - is boris godunov.

after the play ends . . .
1605 ~ grigori otrepyev, posing as the tsarevich dimitry, successfully usurps the russian throne, marries the catholic marina mnishek, proclaims her tsarina and together with her reigns over all russia. judging by the reports of foreign ambassadors to his court, he made a clever ruler.

1606 ~ count vasily shuisky, who had been pardoned by the imposter, organises a conspiracy against him. basmanov dies trying to defend the imposter. ultimately the imposter is captured, horribly murdered, and his remains are ground up with gunpowder and shopt from a cannon from the kremlin walls in the direction of poland. shuisky is crowned tsar and rules russia until 1610.

mairina mnishek
after the death of the imposter grigoro otrepyev, his widown marina mnishek's life was spared on the condition that she renounce her title and return to poland. undaunted by her first short-lived reign as tsarina and with help from her father, marina made her way to tushino, a small village north of moscow, where she recognised another young man as her husband back from the dead. polish politician stansilav zolkiewski wrote in his memoirs, that the only two things false dimitrys i and ii had in common was that " they were both human and usurpers." this marriage soon went the way of her first.

after the death of false dimitry ii in december of 1610, marina mnishek attached herself to the cossack ivan zarutsky who attempted to bring her son, ivan dmitryevich (son of the imposter) to the throne. after her third plan to usurp the russian throne failed, mnishek fled south to astrakhan where the people led an uprising in 1614 aimed solely at capturing and ejecting marina and her family from the city. they fled into the steppes, and there attempted to raise support for a cossack uprising. they were eventually captured in 1614.

ivan zarutsky and mnishek's son ivan were executed and mariuna died in prison soon afterwards.

By Paul Taylor
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
The Independent

Most people know the story of Boris Godunov only through Mussorgsky's opera. Thanks to Declan Donnellan and Russian company Cheek by Jowl, we now have a rare chance to experience Pushkin's original 1825 play. In a thrilling modern-dress version, it emerges as a mordant commentary on the instabilities of power and the repetitive nature of tyranny, and it crackles with edgy, topical relevance.
The play poses a challenge to directors: not only is it restlessly episodic and labour-intense in terms of casting, it also lacks a conventional climax. There's no big showdown between the two rivals for the throne. Having murdered his way to the top, Tsar Boris is challenged by a young pretender, a runaway monk who claims to be the boy allegedly eliminated. Frustratingly, the two never met. Undaunted, Donnellan finds imaginative solutions to this problem and arrives at a unified vision of the piece.
The point about the warring opponents is that they are both fundamentally impostors and the production, in overlapping scenes, highlights that thematic kinship. For example, Grigory, the made-over monk, surfaces like the emanation of a bad conscience, eerily replacing the spectre of the child-victim as Alexander Feklistov's boorish Boris broods over his guilt.
Pushkin's crucial insight is that the pretender's supporters don't care whether he's fake: Grigory here acts like a game show host who welcomes his cheer-leaders with a slick insincerity. The theatre audience, seated on either side of the catwalk stage, are treated like the Russian mob to these cynical, showbiz exercises.
Andrey Kuzichev's excellent Grigory has just the right slippery quality as the protean pretender who sheds disguises like skins. His seduction of a Polish noblewoman proceeds by comic fits and starts. When he confesses his true identity, she allows him to resume once assured of his mad self-conviction. Power is the sexual turn-on; principle is utterly discounted.

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