Review: Ladybird by Secret/Heart

LadybirdLadybird is not your average Christmas show, and I have to applaud the The New Diorama Theatre for programming it in December, which made a welcome alternative to the jolly muzak and tinsel-ridden images otherwise pervading our culture at this time of year.

Written by Russian ‘enfant-terrible’, Vasily Sigarev, the translation by Sasha Dugdale is fluent and beautifully idiomatic, plunging the audience into the harsh and hopeless world of Dima, who lives with his alcoholic father in a block of flats overlooking a vandalised graveyard, known to the residents as Dead or Alive. The play could have been depressing in the extreme: the characters are trapped in poverty, so desperate to escape that volunteering to fight in Chechnya seems preferable to their meaningless lives and inevitable slow decay. This is a story in which the hierarchy of wealth, or rather lack of it, is measured by the capacity to prey on those lower down the ladder, and there are moments in which the cruelty of the exploitation, both financial and emotional, seems almost relentless.  But Seb Harcombe‘s accomplished directing creates waves of crescendo and hiatus which take the audience on a breathtaking rollercoaster of horror and empathy and transcends the mundane and barren world in which the play is set.  Despite the subject matter, the production engages and seduces its audience and there are flashes of humour and an undercurrent of hope.

The characters are beautifully drawn and the acting is superb.  Scott Karim is totally credible as the pathetic drug addict, Slavik, gnawing at the furniture and so desperate to fund his next fix that he is prepared to destroy the one, treasured memory that Dima still has left. Bethan Cullinane draws out the complexity of Lera, as her outward confidence slips away to reveal the vulnerability of a young girl victimised by her own naive optimism. Molly Gromadzki perfectly judges the transition of Yulka from poised, supercilious virgin to screeching, psychotic manipulator, ultimately revealing her as the most powerful character in the group, and Iain Batchelor is truly menacing as the slimy, sinister Arkasha, delighting in exploiting, intimidating and abusing those weaker than himself.

Secret/Heart are a promising young company and certainly deserve their place as one of the collectives supported by the New Diorama. I’ll be looking out for their productions in future.

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