What better antidote to a grim, grey May Thursday then a piece of deeply bleak Russian theatre? No, seriously. It doesn’t sound promising and I’ll admit when I read the synopsis, which made liberal use of the words ‘harrowing’, ‘uncompromising’ and ‘human spirit at its lowest ebb’ I wasn’t convinced that this would be quite the thing to haul me out of my current vague malaise. But actually I was pleasantly surprised. Phil Willmott’s adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s second play, The Lower Depths is a spirited and compelling production. It’s on at the Finborough in Earls Court, one of London’s best pub theatres (though, having said that, this actually the first time I’ve been there in something like two years now).
The play is set in a provincial pre-revolutionary Russian doss house inhabited by a thief, a prostitute, a gambler, an alcoholic former actor, an elderly vagrant, and various other characters on the lower margins of society. The set is appropriately grubby, a muddy collage of browns and greys. And things don’t exactly begin well - the play starts with death of a young woman and an awful lot of wailing, making me immediately regret not making better use of the ‘pub’ part of this pub theatre and stealing myself with a pre-show gin (or vodka for that matter, which at least would have been thematically in keeping with the play). However due to Wilmott’s agreeably earthy adaptation, some fine ensemble acting and a healthy streak of black humour, this wasn’t the misery-fest it could have been and it successfully lifted me out of my self-induced fug.
In other news, my lemon tree has gone all wilty again - my excitement over its resurrection was clearly premature.