Fathers and Sons

Posted on: 23 June 2014 by Laurence Green

Laurence reviews the stage adaptation of Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons at the Donmar Warehouse.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/35080/landscape_large.jpg?1403531710The conflict between different generations is explored by Ivan Turgenev in his great novel Fathers and Sons which has been adapted for the stage by Brian Friel in a touching production, directed by Lyndsey Turner, at the Donmar Warehouse.

The action is set in 1859 on the eve of the Tsar’s emancipation of the serfs, a move that reflected discontent in the country but did nothing to dispel it. Two young men arrive at a country estate fresh from university: one, the impressionable Arkady, son of the landowner, the other, Bazarov, a brilliant and charismatic radical, prodaiming a dangerous new philosophy and dismissive of many things the rest of the world holds dear such as art and romance. Their initially warm welcome however soon cools as the new house guest attacks the values of his hosts. Over the course of the summer political ideas are tested by filial duty and the arrival of Anna, a mysterious visitor whose presence stirs the heart and threatens a friendship.

The play speaks of the heartbreak of being a parent and terrible compromise of growing up. It is a work imbued with philosophical insights father/son tensions, and love and despair, indeed a microcosm of life itself, while the mood varies between laughter and pain. But director Lyndsey Turner hasn’t managed to come up with an adequate solution to the laborious expositions of the second act and the unsatisfying knowledge that much of the story has taken place elsewhere.

Designer Rob Howell’s wooden desk and slatted wooden walls combine with James Farncombe’s atmospheric lighting to cleverly suggest the simultaneous illusion of indoors and outdoors whilst capturing the elegiac quality of the play.

Joshua James gives a performance of great tenderness and detail as Arkady who hero-worships his friend and who, despite his committed allegiance to nihilism, is unable to suppress his natural good nature and instinctive kindness. American actor Seth Numrich brilliantly captures the impatient radicalism and vulnerability of Bazarov, believing that the old Russia should be swept away but providing no solution as to what to put in its place. Karl Johnson and Lindy Whiteford make a strong impression as his proud and doting parents, while Anthony Calf suggests the groping uncertainly of Arkady’s ineffectual landowning father, Nikolai, who has got one of his servants pregnant and now has a baby son. Fine support comes from Elaine Cassidy as Anna Odintsov, the wealthy, sophisticated but damaged widow, whom both the young radicals fall for, and Tim McMullan as intelligence to know that his entire way of life is being undermined. There is also a cherishable performance by Susan Engel as an imperious old princess with an irrational hatred of accordion players.

In short then this study of the collision between young and old, liberals and radicals and traditional civilisation and sceptical rationalism will stir both the heart and the mind.

Runs until July 26
Box office: 0844 871 7624

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