Theatre Review: Ladybird @ The New Diorama

In this month’s jam-packed theatre schedule of pantos, children’s shows and Christmas ballets, it’s generally not the time of year you see a play about a group of lost souls in a deteriorated city in 1990’s Russia. The recently revamped New Diorama is not shy of bold programming, this being evident from Vassily Sigarev’s hard-hitting Ladybird running through 22 December. They nearly pull it off, but the parts somehow don’t add up to a remarkable whole.

Premiering in 2004 at the Royal Court Theatre, this version is put on by Secret/Heart, a theatre collective of UK drama graduates. It starts and stays in a single, shabby room where we are introduced to Dima, a despondent young man leaving to fight in Chechnya, his drugged out, sofa-surfing friend Slavik, his naïve girlfriend Lera, who desperately pesters everyone for money so she can make a better life for herself in Moscow and her cousin Yulka, a soft-spoken beauty whose past is not what you think.

The mismatched group discuss dreams, missed opportunities, desires and debts over copious amounts of vodka. What starts as a typical celebration quickly transforms to a sad and at times violent evening after Dima’s drunken father and sleazy boss arrive. Russia’s problems as a country are highlighted via Dima’s family and work life – something that all of his friends, we soon find out, are tackling in their own way too. Without giving too much away, the play confronts serious issues such as prostitution, theft, drug use and war. It’s not an easy viewing, but it does portray an honest slice of life both for young adults and for those trying to get by in the post-communism period.

Performances are mainly from RADA’s recent graduates – most of which are incredibly convincing. But as one might also think, there is a touch of over-acting. Seb Harcombe’s directorial style is clearly weighted towards the actors, no doubt influenced by his previous role as RADA’s Head of Acting. However, the simple set design by Nicolai Hart Hansen helps balance the dramatics with the story.

As a fill-in for the initially scheduled Mysteries: Creation, Passion and Eternity, the show is not bad. As a stand-alone theatre piece, it feels clunky and not yet ready for showtime.  With some likening Vassily Sigarev to Chekhov, the material itself might be an incentive to check out the show.

Ladybird is showing at The New Diorama through Saturday, December 22.  Performances start at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 3.30pm. Tickets are £12.50/ concessions £10.50.

Photo supplied by New Diorama Theatre

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