In Soviet Russsia, the image they presented to the West mattered, and so sending political dissidents to prison was avoided; instead the KGB had a tendency to classify anyone who spoke out against the regime as mentally ill, and imprison them in mental asylums. This forms the basis for Tom Stoppard's 1977 play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
, as we see a cell shared by two men, both called Alexander Ivanov. One (Adrian Schiller¹) is one such political prisoner. The other (Julian Bleach - Davros! The most recent Davros anyway) is a genuine mental patient who is plagued by an imaginary orchestra. The play's unique twist is that it requires an actual orchestra to be present onstage, which goes some way to explaining why this revival (first seen last year with a different cast, brought back now as it was such a success) is such a rarity. Fortunately the National Theatre has the resources and the huge Olivier stage to handle this unusual requirement. The music is composed by André Previn and intertwines with the text to become part of the storytelling action.
The production is directed by Felix Barrett and Tom Morris, and designer Bob Crowley leaves the stage relatively bare, with a zigzag of corridors on the floor that gets broken up when the revolve moves, adding a discordant effect in keeping with the theme of mental illness. Previn's music (performed by Southbank Sinfonia) is great, sometimes feeling like you're at a classical concert, other times working like a movie soundtrack (which is in fact where Previn started his career.) And while it deals with some pretty disturbing ideas, Stoppard's script has many light moments, often pointing out the absurdity of the situation, like when the resident Doctor (Jonathan Aris - another Being Human
bod, he was the ghostly newsreader in last Sunday's episode) has trouble maintaining the lie that the political prisoner is nothing of the sort. Bleach is very good, Schiller even better and the directors marshall the whole thing into something unique and vivid. For obvious reasons plays with a full orchestra onstage didn't quite catch on, but then I guess the rarity adds to the sense of a special occasion. The play only lasts 65 minutes and at times does feel like a bit of a novelty piece but the effect is still impressive overall. This being a Stoppard play I of course went with vanessaw
who's a big fan, and she agreed that it was well worth seeing.Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
by Tom Stoppard and André Previn is booking until the 17th of February at the National Theatre's Olivier.
¹I was tearing my hair out trying to work out why he looked familiar; the programme notes were no help, (although it seems he'll be on Being Human
sometime soon) and I finally realised on the way home that he's in that anti-drunk driving advert where he's the barman who plays all the different roles.