A Russian in the Woods

Saturday, 9 March, 2002

Peter Whelan’s new drama, which premiered at Stratford-Upon-Avon last year, has transferred to the small Barbican Pit, and although the first act is tedious the show excels in the second act, which is enthralling.

Set in the 1950s, Pat, a young English sergeant is sent to an army outpost in Berlin where he is given the job of guarding an army Education Centre over the weekend from possible burglary. He is soon befriended by Ilse Bucher, a German secretary who works at the Centre and Staff Sergeant Fraser Cullen. The young sergeant’s weekend mission is uneventful until he decides to sneak away to a party to meet Ilse. Ilse fails to appear and Pat befriends an American Gi who he invites back to the Education Centre because the American has missed his last bus. This meeting leads to a series of events that embroil him in the cold war, communism and espionage.

In the first act the author is establishing the three main characters, in order for the second act to have its full impact. Unfortunately, the first act is so dull many of you may be forgiven if you decided not to return after the interval, and a few didn’t on the day I saw it!! However, after the interval the drama really takes off and you become captivated by the situations and dilemmas faced by the young sergeant, as the American Gi turns out to be other than he said!

Anthony Flanagan is convincing as Pat, a ‘wet behind the ears’ young sergeant, who is fascinated by the Russians and eagerly anticipates meeting one. He reads Russian novels given to him by his Father, an ex-communist party member, and cannot understand why we should now have to view the Russians as our enemies, when not so long ago they where considered our allies. Anna Madeley, is most touching as the distraught and helpless Ilse, who wishes to get to America so as to escape from any further misfortunes that will await her if the Russians get hold of Berlin. Louis Hillier as the amiable Fraser, an officer who likes to lark around brings some hope and humanity to the play. Colin Mace is particularly impressive as Clive, a sergeant in the intelligence unit who at the start of the play appears quite friendly but by the end is quite ruthless!! Stuart Goodwin, Charlie Simpson, David Hinton and Douglas Rao make up this fine ensemble.

The play has received good notices from the popular press: NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Appealing and revealing.....beautiful, subtle piece with the alien mire of melodrama." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "A Generous, rewarding play.." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Excellent new play..... Whelan re-creates dark times with gripping precision." BRIAN LOGAN for TIME OUT says, "Whelan leavens the intensely dramatic scenario with droll humour." MICHAEL COVENEY for THE DAILY MAIL says, "Remarkable."

Lasting 2 hours and 45 minutes, it is very slow to get going but when it does, it explodes.

(Darren Dalglish)

(Production Photos provided by EPO)

Links to full reviews from newspapers...

Evening Standard
The Guardian

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