Preview: Ghostwritten

Image credit: Hannah Taylor

‘Ghostwritten’, this week’s Corpus lateshow, is quite fascinating, not only for the high calibre of its source material, but also in the way it plays on its own artifice and the way in which it pulls in a litany of referents, which we can all relate to on different levels, according to our own frame of reference.

There’s the Yorkshire accent of a man living in a country house to suggest provincial life, the exaggerated comic performance of the stock characters we find in Russian novels of this period, actors breaking character in the play within the play. However, the directorial team of Victor Rees and Alex Tadel, who also wrote this adaption of three short stories by Gogol, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, were wary of making Russian narratives too English, as they tell me:

‘What is clear from the translations and what we tried to get across in our script is the very specific brand of Russian sense of humour which can be at once mundane or melodramatic before switching to something quite grim - we hope we preserved it, instead of Anglicising the humour or the horror too much!’

This absurd switching has been worked beautifully into this adaption. At one point, a character in the play within the play within pulls out a piece of paper to begrudgingly read out her ‘lines’, which shower effusive praise on the narrator of the story, which becomes so over the top (‘Ranked best in the world at ping pong, started the drinking society…’) that the interlocutor of the story stops the ‘actor’ and sends her offstage. The narrator then complains that his interlocutor is ‘ruining the suspension of disbelief- Michelangelo Chini’ (one of the small multi-role cast), ‘spent ages learning his lines!’ Another ‘actor’ yells insults in Russian at the narrator after he calls him a halfwit.

These stories really stretch our suspension of disbelief to its limits. The very visual nature of theatre presents challenges regarding the ambiguity which these stories really feed on in their short story form. However, the directorial and writing team of Victor Rees, Alex Tadel, and associate director Noah Geelan have tackled this issue in thought-provoking ways, and although the rehearsal set was fairly simple and representational, it will be interesting to see how set designer Stella Swain and costume designer Jane Li approach the aesthetics of this show. ‘Ghostwritten’ looks set to be a macabre trip into the psyche of classic Russian literature.

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