A Dashing Fellow: Russian stories on the London stage

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May 30, 2014
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Photo of A Dashing Fellow play adaptation of three Vladimir Nabokov novels in London.
A Dashing Fellow play adaptation of three Vladimir Nabokov novels in London.

London’s theater scene has recently had a new Russian addition. A Dashing Fellow, presented by Belka Productions at the New Diorama Theater in central London, brings a breath of fresh air to the British stage. This daring play, set in the crumbling decadence of 1930’s Germany, brings together three of Vladimir Nabokov’s stories: A Dashing Fellow, A Matter of Chance and A Nursery Tale, all originally written in Russian.

Celebrating Vladimir Nabokov’s work

Nabokov - one of Russia’s most celebrated writers of the 20th century - is widely known for the highly acclaimed novels, Lolita and Pale Fire. The idea of staging Nabokov’s stories and adapting them for British audiences first occurred to Belka’s artistic director, Oleg Mirochnikov, co-Founder Rosy Benjamin, and producer Oliver King in 2012. The play was finally presented on stage in April 2014.

Oliver King said that as part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, the play brings to life Nabakov’s “exuberant, decadent and highly enjoyable examples of playful prose.” The production house, which is also behind the West End transfer of the Mossovet State Theater’s Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya, aims to present imaginative productions of Russian and European texts seldom viewed in the UK.

Belka Productions wants to present “Russian works and new Russian literary adaptations for UK audiences, and act as a focus for Anglo-Russian cultural exchange,” said King. He praised the UK-Russia Year of Culture as a “fantastic opportunity to help foster relations and enhance our understanding and experiences of Russian art and culture and vice versa… I hope this show can go some small way towards feeding an increasing appetite for Russian drama in London.”

Simon Eves, the director of the play, said one of the challenges of adapting a Russian play for the London stage was Nabokov’s story structure and the absence of moral dictum in the closing paragraphs of his stories. He noted: “There is a certain gleeful pessimism to Nabokov's stories, designed to unsettle, rather than depress their audience. Striking the right note when adapting such material for the stage was a principle concern for me and the creative team."

The challenge of Frau Monde

One of the most interesting characters in the play is that of Frau Monde, who is played brilliantly by Peter Clements. Aside from bringing delight and dark humor to this play, in one act Clements memorably wolfs down an apple strudel in one sitting. He said: “Making an ensemble piece like this one is a great challenge - we've been lucky having such a good humored and brave cast.”

Trained at the Drama Center London, Clements said that the main challenges were the technical aspects of the character, like maintaining “a German accent and diction; my physical life as a woman; how to devour an apple strudel on stage every night without making too much of a mess!”

In talking about the theater scene across the UK, Eves said: “There are plenty of ensemble casts around the UK playing out economic storytelling in a very continental style.” He also noted that the reason why A Dashing Fellow stands out is because the “storytelling has been refracted through the prism of Nabokov's inventive magic and melancholy. You won't leave A Dashing Fellow with the feeling that everything will be alright in the end. But, by the same token, you won't leave feeling that all is lost.”

A Dashing Fellow will be running at The New Diorama (15-16 Triton Street, Regents Place, London, NW1 3BF, London NW1 3BF) from April 22 to May 17. For more information on Belka Productions please visit: www.belkaproductions.co.uk.

What is your favorite Nabokov novel?

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