The story takes you into two different worlds – one is a small bookshop and the other an historically ambiguous side story set in Stalin’s Russia, the side story being written by the main character and bookshop employee Atticus Smith (Adam Small).
Unfortunately the story has some grave historical inaccuracies. It seems to take the most general stereotypes people have of Stalin’s Russia, without confirming whether these are accurate. A man with the Jewish name Isaac probably would not have walked around that freely and a rabbi probably would not celebrate his daughter’s wedding that openly, with an enormous party involving the whole village.
However, the musical part of the show was great. The tunes are catchy and the lyrics accompany the story nicely. The ensemble features Joel Benedict (guitar), Eleanor Toms (cello), Amy Gardyne (violin), Ben Boskovic (percussion) and Alec White (bass). Also, incorporating them onto the stage worked really well – the ensemble acts as background characters, and their costume changes contribute a lot to the sense of location.
Talking about location: the staging connects the bookshop with Atticus’ Russian novel by keeping the main colours red, white and black. There is a massive wall of books kept in these colours. However, the story-line never actually touches politics or any background information on Russia’s history. That makes the staging seem a little bit out of place and not very relevant to the actual plot-line. It would have been nicer to just focus on creating the sense of being in a small bookshop rather than incorporating communism –it is simply not a theme in the play.
A problematic moment is when career woman Lilly (Gabriella Margulies) and the fictional Russian Yanna (Sinéad Wall) have an ensemble together. The song talks about difficulties in life and makes it seem as if Lilly and Yanna are characters that can relate to each other. Yet, Lilly’s issue is having doubts about her career choices, while Yanna had to watch her whole family being murdered – there is little common ground. Things like this make it hard to relate to any of the characters or to the events taking place.
Overall the play brushes over serious topics without exploring them appropriately. That makes it seem as if the only purpose of mentioning things like death and childhood trauma, is creating quick and easily understandable drama. The story might have come across more sincere with less horrific side topics. Nevertheless, the musical part is great and will leave you with some catchy ear-worms.
- By Liam O’Rafferty
- Director: Tania Azevedo
- Cast: Adam Small, Gabriella Margulies, Matthew Atkins, Sinéad Wall
- Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London
- Until 20th May 2017
- Review by Vera Mikusch
- 5 May 2017