Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

A punchy, single-breadth theatre piece, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (the mnemonic for the notes on the lines of the treble stave) is no longer than the largest movement of the Shostakovich symphonies with which it often echoes. Punchy isn't simply a glib boxing figure-of-speech either. The theatrical footwork of the play shuffles violently and surreptitiously between straightforward puns and the evocation of scandalous cold war oppression.

The play itself is set in a mental institution, which is essentially a front for a plain-view gulag. The stage is dominated by a full symphony orchestra (The South Bank Sinfonia) who provide not only incidental music but are also a fully interactive extension of the raving delusions of one of the two inmates, the genuinely insane Ivanov.

However, the play proper concerns the second Ivanov, a prisoner of conscience who undertakes a hunger strike. Adrian Schiller's Ivanov-the-sane is a deeply serious, often rather hectoringly immobile (sorry if that sounds oxymoronic) character standing as an island amidst the whirl of sound, staging and ballet that keeps erupting. Stoppard's script is clear (written almost thirty years before another Iron Curtain piece, Rock N Roll which I struggled with) and Previn's music is never arch or self-interested. Super theatre.

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