Brighton FringeDramaMusicReviewSouth East

BRIGHTON FRINGE: Zhivago Theater – Brighton College, Montague Studio

Writers and Performers: Irena Filippova and Hans Visser 
Reviewer: James Napleton

After the October Revolution of 1917 Russia and its people would never be the same, as they became part of the world’s first communist state.

The story of Doctor Zhivago for Irena and Hans is really a story about its author Boris Pasternak, the many moments in the story linking back to the author’s own life.

There is a powerful folk mysticism albeit with a modern twist in the way they tell the story of Pasternak in revolutionary Russia. They read biographical details from Pasternak’s personal life, his artistic development and the wider changes happening in Russia. They read for several minutes at a time and then begin to play, Irena with an accordion and Hans with a guitar or bass guitar. They play tracks behind their own instrumentation to capture the whole song.

The music can at times be really staggering. The performance is well structured, with some of the more emotive and harrowing descriptions of Pasternak’s life are coupled with some really poignant music. The wide diversity in the tone and emotional balance of the songs adds verve to their storytelling, as the audience travels the ups and downs of Pasternak’s own life.

On the screen behind the two performers, images are constantly flashing. They show all things Russian and vary from scenes from the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago to images of the social realism that Stalin imposed upon artists. These images can be arresting, visually recreating the world of Pasternak and allowing the audience to almost climb into 20th Century Russia.

However the images flow by and often feel quite arbitrary, it feels lucky if a good image and song collide and not the direct intention of the performers. Having the images play through the performance undermines their value so, in this case, it certainly feels like less is more. Overall, Zhivago Theatre is an interesting approach and an immersive performance that breathes life into biography.

Reviewed on 28 May 2017 at Brighton College, Montague Studio  |  @brightonfringe

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