Hector H. Munro – otherwise known as Saki – was a late nineteenth century short story writer famous during his lifetime for his whimsical but often mordant satires of Edwardian society.
This new dramatisation by the author Katherine Rundell frames a selection of his stories around his experiences in the trenches during the First World War in the moments leading up to his death. It’s a smart move, giving the piece a clear narrative arc (when it could easily feel like a series of disconnected stories), whilst also highlighting the absurdity and melancholy of Saki’s text. The folly and repressed violence that subtly underwrite the stories acquire a whole new level of meaning as we’re reminded that the society that they reflect found its ultimate expression in war.
Jessica Lazar’s production is visually rich – incorporating shadow puppetry, physical theatre and puppetry. It’s all beautifully executed: simple visual touches bringing the stories to life, and an ensemble of six who make a verbally complex text accessible and engaging. The surreal elements of Saki’s stories are brought to the fore: a personal highlight being the Sredni Vashtar story – a strange, rhythmic and phantasmagorical detour into the life of a ferret-worshipping ten year old.
It’s great that Atticist Productions have drawn attention to these neglected texts – Saki’s stories maybe even compete with Anton Chekhov’s for their imaginative brilliance and astute character observation. And this production does them a great service. Brilliant stuff.