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ARCHIVE PAGE FOR - Summerfolk (NT)

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Play by Maxim Gorky (1904) in a new version by Nick Dear. Directed by Trevor Nunn.

Returns Due To Public Demand!

In the early years of the century, Russians of every social class were beginning to sense the onset of a great upheaval.

Gorky's mighty naturalistic masterpiece shows us a diverse group of Russians meeting, as they do every year, at their summer holiday retreat.

Some are frightened at the prospect of change, some are angry and some yearn for a new life. As they question the value of their work, their art and leisure, they're shocked by the responses their disputes reveal. Relationships break under the strain and scandals of business and infidelity are laid bare.

Cast includes: Roger Allam, Michael Bryant, Robert Burt, Martin Chamberlain, Oliver Cotton, Raymond Coulthard, Jim Creighton, Derbhle Crotty, Ceri Ann Gregory, Richard Henders, Patricia Hodge, Jack James, Gabrielle Jourdan, Beverley Klein, Henri McCarthy, Leigh McDonald, Liam McKenna, Sean Mullin, Elizabeth Reniham, Simon Russell Beale, Aislinn Sands, Myra Sands and David Weston

On 22 November 1999: Trevor Nunn won the 1999 London Evening Standard Theatre Award for 'Best Director' for The Merchant of Venice and Summerfolk both at the Royal National Theatre

OLIVIER Theatre previewed 27 August, opened 3 September 1999, closed 23 November 1999, Returned 10 February to 18 March 2000, Returned 26 April to 2 May 2000

Extracts from the reviews (original cast):

"...Summerfolk was controversial from the first. Some loathed its socialist slant; the fell Lunacharsky, a critic before he became Lenin's Minister of Culture, praised its toughness and "cruelty"; and the convulsions of 1905 forced its closure. So why revive it in 1999, when its politics seem as bankrupt as those of Chekhov's landowners? It is a question triumphantly answered by Trevor Nunn and Fiona Buffini's superbly acted production, which leaves you feeling that Gorky was an acute observer of character - and, whatever his agenda, one with an eye for quirks and quiddities still to be spotted today... stunning revival" The Times

"...The final production of the season is one of the great ensemble pieces, Maxim Gorky's Summerfolk, and the company is in its element, offering performances of beguiling freshness and detail. Even at three-and-a-half hours, the show doesn't seem a minute too long. At times, Summerfolk seems like a parody of Chekhov. A group of bourgeois Russians are spending the summer in their country dachas. There is much idleness and languor, a great deal of drinking; love affairs come to the boil, violent arguments break out and at the end the characters disperse. Yet there are crucial differences betwen Chekhov and Gorky. Chekhov never seems to sit in judgement on his characters, whereas in Summerfolk you can divide most of them into goodies and baddies; and while Chekhov is always ambivalent about politics, Gorky puts them centre stage, leaving no doubt that he is firmly in favour of radical social change. He is, in short, a less subtle, and a less poetic writer than Chekhov, though thanks to the excellence of Nunn's production there are long passages when the play is utterly spellbinding. With the help of an evocative birchwood design by Christopher Oram, and a witty, colloquial translation by Nick Dear, Nunn conjures up a succession of visually ravishing scenes when you seem to be watching not actors but the flow of life itself... It's a night of rich rewards and I just hope Nunn can keep his crack ensemble together when the present season ends." The Daily Telegraph

"Maxim Gorky's Summerfolk, written in 1904, is a great company play: a scathing portrait of the new Russian professional class at leisure. As such it is a perfect vehicle for the National Theatre's ensemble; but watching this richly detailed production, directed by Trevor Nunn with Fiona Buffini, one also feels a pang of regret that this is its last scheduled outing... Gorky's teeming, three-and-three-quarter-hour play is both socially specific and eternally relevant. But, if I have any cavil with Nick Dear's new version, it is that it strains too hard to bring out the play's modernity. To its credit, it highlights Gorky's embryonic feminism and faith in women as moral touchstones: Varvara's final decision to leave is sparked by overhearing a torrent of chauvinist filth. But the four-letter words, the odd phrase like "dreadful whinger" and even the imported jokes ("How many people work at the medical centre?" "About half of them") lift the play bodily out of its historical context... This production triumphantly demonstrates the benefits of ensemble acting that the National would be foolish to squander." The Guardian

"...In Trevor Nunn's seductively atmospheric production Maxim Gorky's Summerfolk emerges as a transfixing piece of theatre, uniting comedy, satire and political diatribe in a post-Chekhovian swoop of politically motivated energy... Christopher Oram's alluring semi-circular stage with backdrop of birch trees and dried grass breathes an escapist air... Varya, married with scant happiness to Roger Allam's smug vulgarian lawyer, and Patricia Hodge in terrific form as a stringent, lovelorn doctor, convey the play's mood of personal and political disillusion. When Varya's teenage hero, the famous writer Shamilov, arrives on a visit, she discovers he is no more than a vacuous poser. Her contempt for the morally bankrupt Summerfolk springs from this realisation. Maria, however, selflessly abandons a love affair with Raymond Coulthard's Vlass, a man young enough to be her son but keen to be her husband. She keeps issuing moral-health warnings for the holidaymakers to fight for social justice. These vignettes of personal despair and political activity give way to Summerfolk at play. Nunn organises huge set-piece actions with deft vigour, except at the close where he sentimentally imposes a happy ending upon Gorky's finale of ruined relations..." London Evening Standard

 
 
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