It never ceases to amaze how relevant stories written outside of the 21st century can still be today. Nikolai Gogol’s Marriage is a perfect example. Set in 1800s Russia, one man is caught between his desire to maintain his independence and his ‘duty to God and Russia’ to secure a beautiful, young (and wealthy) bride. Once cajoled into hiring a matchmaker, he finds himself alongside three other suitors all pining for the same woman. The only difference is: he realises he doesn’t want anything to do with the institution of marriage.
While Gogol’s play was initially reviewed negatively in 1842 Moscow, there is no doubt it would have been hailed as a masterpiece had it waited a couple of centuries to premiere. Between the comedic banter that darts back and forth like a ping pong ball and the ponderous statements reflecting the meaning of life – it all feels very modern. And the beauty of it is startling: especially its raw, almost naive look at one person questioning the obligations of society. Bold, particularly for the time it was written.
Howard Coyler’s adaptation, now at Brockley’s intimate, and impressively prolific Jack Studio Theatre, nicely maintains Gogol’s flair for the absurd, leaving in characters such as Omelette, who is primarily concerned that Agatha’s nose is too big and the style-conscious Anushkin who fears Agatha may not be able to speak French, since “all women should be able to speak French.”
Solid performances from leads Andrew Venning (Podkolyossin), his jostling best friend Dominic Cazenove (Kotchkarev) and the innocent, yet charming Elana Martin (Agatha) give the production a high octane intensity, throwing Gogol’s witty lines around from right, left, top and centre.
Running close to an hour and a half, Jack Studio Theatre regular Scott Le Crass directs a tight production that speeds along with a hint of Russian panache (referencing Sunny Jeon’s notable costumes and stage design) and a touch of English hilarity – the relationship broker Fekla could easily stem from the depths of Essex.
It’s worth a trip to this area, if not for this highly entertaining production, then for Brockley itself which is brimming with an up-and-coming cool factor.
Marriage is at Brockley’s Jack Studio Theatre until Saturday July 12. Shows run from Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.45pm with tickets at £14/ £11 concessions. Londonist saw this on a complimentary ticket.