This production of The March on Russia by Orange Tree Theatre, in association with Up in Arms, brings an intricate family drama, steeped in national and personal history, to an intimate, inviting stage.
Set in Yorkshire, 1989, David Storey’s play depicts the touching, and trying, relationship between Mr and Mrs Pasmore (adeptly portrayed by Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace) on their 60th wedding anniversary. When their three adult children, Wendy (Sarah Belcher), Colin (Colin Tierney) and Eileen (Connie Walker) each decide, independently, to visit, their arrival stirs old memories and reveals new tensions in the life of this ageing couple.
The March on Russia is a familiar family portrait which is both embedded in its time, with undercurrents of political tension and an uncertain future, and perennial. The relationship between Mr and Mrs Pasmore is fraught with wilful misunderstanding and unarticulated expectation, and the resulting bickering provides much of the comedy of this play. Yet their long-standing relationship is also tender and fiercely affectionate.
Storey’s play is built upon the memories that make up a family’s history, the happy events we recount and treasure, the closely held grievances and intimate knowledge of our loved ones’ habits. But it also dwells on the stories that we prefer to forget, on shame and a fear of the future which makes this well-known past a refuge and a prison.
The Orange Tree Theatre’s stage brings the audience right to the edge of the action, contributing to a sense of claustrophobia in this close-knit family. The lighting design for this production skilfully evokes the fragile atmosphere of the family’s early morning conversations and late night confessions. A simple, inspired set design reveals characters in different rooms, allowing the audience to see the cast’s hidden reactions to the family tension; moments of heightened emotion are contrasted with absurd vignettes of daily life in the next room.
The March on Russia presents the understated drama of everyday life at an unhurried pace, offering only a sidelong glance at the very present pressures of the time, preferring to focus on the gentle , sometimes escapist, routines of making tea and reminiscing. This moving production offers a keen sense of the absurd moments of family life, and the trials of ageing. It is a gentle and humorous portrayal of one family’s conflict and reconciliation which is immediately familiar and invites the audience to reflect upon the relationships in their own lives.