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Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
Theatre review: Remembrance Day 
28th-Mar-2011 10:09 pm
Iwanavatar1
For all its recent hits the Royal Court doesn't do itself any favours when promoting its future shows, so I wondered if I'd get anyone to come with me to Remembrance Day - a play about long-standing political tensions in Latvia - so I was surprised when Richard pounced on it. Of course if I'd waited until casting had been announced it would have been no trouble to shift the spare ticket, as it's fair to say I wasn't the only one excited about seeing Iwan Rheon on stage again, and in such an intimate theatre. How nice of the Royal Court to commission new photos of their casts:

Although he had some competition from Luke Norris

whose popularity among our party may or may not have been connected to the scene he spent wearing only a small pair of pants. There was some quick, accidentalish nipple action from Rheon as well though (you know when someone takes their jumper off but the shirt underneath it comes along too? That.) Quick, but enough to see that he hasn't let himself go since Misfits. Anyway it was all enough for Ian not to regret taking my third ticket at the last minute, as Andy was ill. But it's fair to say I didn't get much out of either of my theatre companions about the actual play itself, so you're stuck with just my opinion as usual. Which I should probably get on with, I suppose, if I must.

Judging from this play the political situation in Latvia is pretty complex. The Remembrance Day of the title is a march commemorating them driving the Russians out during WWII; just one problem with this - the Latvians were technically on the side of the Nazis when this happened, and they had German help. Add to this the country still having a large population descended from Russians who, in their opinion at least, are openly treated as second-class citizens. 16-year-old Anya (Ruby Bentall) belongs to the latter ethnic group and is protesting against the march. When her father Sasha (Michael Nardone) tries to promote a "live and let live" message in a TV interview, his words are misconstrued as sympathetic to the Nazis and his family are targetted. Rory Mullarkey translates Aleksey Scherbak's play and has done a pretty good job of clarifying what is an often confusing political landscape, while director Michael Longhurst has put together a clear, sometimes funny production where it's hard to pin your sympathies on one person. (Sasha may be a victim but martyrdom by refusing to clarify his position in public, despite the effect on his family, makes him hard to like.) There's a bit too much going on for an 85-minute play but if nothing else the blurb's line about "the fight for the political soul of Latvia" is accurate, going from this there's all sort of competing forces there - radicals like Anya, her idol at the Russian political party Boris (Norris) whose scene with his opposite number in the Nationalist party (Nick Court) in which they come across as competing work colleagues rather than deadly enemies is prescient of how she'll eventually feel betrayed by his politics. Meanwhile Rheon as Anya's brother Lyosha represents those younger people who see getting out of the country entirely as the way forward.

Ultimately the people who come off best are the veterans themselves, Latvian Valdis (Ewan Hooper) and Russian-born Misha (Struan Rodger) having quietly come to at least some sort of mutual respect as people, while everyone around is shouting about what they represent as national symbols. One other thing I liked, and which seemed to be the most universal element, was the way racism is built on tiny things, like Paulis' (Sam Kelly) fixation with the idea that Russians don't use bins properly. The play's flawed (there's a few too many moments that look like the crux of the play but don't actually lead anywhere) but it's an interesting enough evening.

Remembrance Day by Aleksey Scherbak, translated by Rory Mullarkey is booking until the 16th of April at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.
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