Review: Burnt By The Sun

Laura Peatman 16 May 2012

Burnt By The Sun

ADC Mainshow, 7.45pm, until Sat 19th May

This week’s mainshow is a brave undertaking. ‘Burnt By The Sun’ encompasses a large cast, an ambitious set, elements of song and dance, and a constantly-shifting emotional pitch. Unfortunately, despite some thoughtful directorial decisions from Hugh Wyld, this production didn’t quite reach the electric heights which it promises.

Peter Flannery’s 2009 adaptation of Nikita Mikhalkov’s 1994 film portrays the effects of Stalin’s rule in 1930s rural Russia, as heroic generals and innocent children alike face the consequences of shady and violent political machinations. So it was a surprise to newcomers to the play – such as myself – that the opening section in particular brought so many laughs. Comedy came in abundance from the flustered Mokhova (Laura Ayres), the exuberant and vodka-drinking Kirik (Will Peck) and the excitable Kolya (seasoned scene-stealer Jack Mosedale, in a sadly brief appearance).

The atmosphere begins to darken with the return of Mitia (Will Attenborough) whose mysterious absence is, it becomes apparent, deeply entwined with that of our protagonists Kotov (Saul Boyer) and Maroussia (Charlotte Hamblin); the idyllic family summer quickly begins to unravel. Yet this increasing tension never rose above a rather average mid-point on the emotional scale. Attenborough and Boyer gave solid enough performances, and Hamblin’s Maroussia in particular was nuanced and affective, alternately joyous, anguished and vulnerable: yet the ensemble effect was sadly lacking, as potentially explosive confrontations did not deliver a powerful enough sense of danger or pathos. This was particularly evident in the climactic clash between Maroussia and Kotov: a scene which moves towards attempted suicide and attempted rape should be disturbingly intense, yet this was uncomfortable more for the way in which these threats were over and done with in a flash. The lack of emotional weight meant that I simply didn’t see these as genuine perils, undermining the value of the scenes.

This is not to say that there isn’t admirable work on show here. It is clear how much thought and attention to detail went into the visual effect of this production, as the impressive set exquisitely evokes the fragile nostalgia of a Chekhovian, pre-Revolution Russia which clashes with the new, Communist world. Within this set of three parts, space was used effectively in some tricky set-ups including, at one point, eight people being simultaneously seated at one table. The live music added to the atmosphere without becoming intrusive, and the elements of dance were blended into the action and avoided the cringe factor which can so easily creep in. Particular praise should also go to the young star who played Nadia: easily holding her own besides actors twice her age, she gave a natural and touching performance.

Yet the performance was beginning to feel stale (not a good sign in what is not an especially long play) when suddenly, in the final climactic scene, the principals abruptly appeared to grasp the force of the dialogue, and Boyer in particular became powerful yet pitiful as he faced his fate: these few minutes were genuinely moving. However, this made the whole experience more frustrating – where had this energy and tension been for the majority of the performance! This spark at the end was not enough to restore what had been missing throughout, and overall this production, decent as it was, failed to affect me in any great way, and simply felt a little flat.

Laura Peatman