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The Devils - a complex piece with dubious rewards

Review by Marcela Olivares

RUSSIAN revolutionaries fight two battles in this play: the one with society and the one within the group itself.

The play is based on Dostoyevsky’s novel The Devils and has been adapted for the stage by Elizabeth Egloff.

It is set around the time of its publication, 1871, in Russia; a time of the Russian Empire, when political discussions were banned from public and when all Russians dreamt of a different Russia.

It starts off with a meeting of the Gang of Five, a revolutionary group.

Present are Ivan Shatov (Ian Groombridge), Shigalyov (Paul Brennan), Virginsky (Peter McNeil O’Connor), Stepan Verkhovensky (Gregory Cox) and Liputin (David Broughton-Davies).

The leader of the group, Peter Verkhovensky (Richard Matthews) later shows up and the meeting begins.

In this early session, a discussion about printing flyers takes place. In the end, money is exchanged for Ivan, a printer by trade, to obtain the necessary plates to produce the material.

It is important to mention that not everybody within the group approves of Peter’s strategies to affect the existing government.

Some of the members are still loyal to the former leader, Nicholas Stavrogin (Guy Quartermaine), who has been absent travelling the world for the past couple of years.

Oddly enough, Nicholas shows up on this particular evening. Upon his return, it is clear that he is haunted by Matryosha (Maria Fernandez), a young girl from his past.

Peter’s plan is to distribute the fliers after they are finished by Shatov, but Shatov produces the material and hides the plates to rebel against Peter’s leadership and his plans.

The group is convinced that Shatov is against them and plans to assassinate him are developed. He is to be convinced to return the plates and when he has led the group to them, he is killed.

Shatov’s sister, Dasha (Annalie Wilson), is in love with Nicholas and helps him whenever possible.

Shatov’s wife, Marie (Alison Baker), abandons him after two weeks together but later returns on the crucial night (unbeknown to all) and is in labour. It is from her side that Shatov leaves to lead the group to the hidden plates.

Nicholas’ mother, Mrs Stavrogin (Judy Norman), is aware of his son’s presence but denies her knowledge to Governor Lembke (James Folan) as it is safer for her son.

Stepan Verkhovensky has been her protégée (with benefits) for the last 20 years. She has also been silently financing some of the Group of Five’s activities.

Governor Lembke and his wife (Jennie Lathan) play a role of authority yet are not much aware of what is to happen. Most decisions are 'suggested' by Josef Blum (Edward Sparked).

Independently of what is happening, Kirilov (Johnny Harris) is also hired by the Group of Five to commit an act in which his life will be taken along with others. In the end, Kirilov takes his own life not as planned by the group.

The character of Nicholas is a rather complex one. He is seen discussing and enticing others to act yet he himself does not. Not in the political arena, anyway.

Nicholas seems to be too much into his life and past experiences that he is emotionally distant from what is happening at the present time. He is haunted by his actions against a young girl.

Such complexity is very difficult to portray on the stage and even though Guy did a good job, there is still room for improvement in his portrayal.

A lot of emotions can be seen in the interactions of the Group of Five members. There is jealousy, distrust, treason, envy; but there is also loyalty, love and trust in some instances.

This play was interesting because it explores the happenings of the times and how some lives are so affected, yet others with more involvement get off easier.

As captivating as the play was, it was difficult to keep track of so many characters and their interaction, and how they fit in.

The build-up of the performance was good, but the monologues at the end left me with a sense of 'what next', as if there was no completion to the play….

The Devils by Elizabeth Egloff at the Union Theatre
Directed by: Anne Khazam
Produced by: Anne Khazam and Steve Miller
Guy Quartermaine as Nicholas Stavrogin
Richard Matthews as Peter Verkhovensky
Ian Groombridge as Ivan Shatov
Paul Brennan as Shigalyov
Peter McNeil O’Connor as Virginsky
Gregory Cox as Stepan Verkhovensky
David Broughton-Davies as Liputin
Judy Norman as Mrs Stavrogin
Annalie Wilson as Dasha Shatov
Alison Baker as Marie Shatov
Johnny Harris as Kirilov
James Folan as Governor Lembke
Jennie Lathan as First Lady Mrs Lembke
Edward Sparkes as Josef Blum
Maria Fernandez as Matryosha

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