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Published on Thursday, 11 August 2011

4 stars

C venues - C aquila (venue website)
4-26 Aug, 9:40pm-10:35pm
Reviewed by Miriam Vaswani

 Parental Guidance. Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

Babushka, the story of an elderly St Petersburg woman and survivor of the Seige of Leningrad who unexpectedly finds a painting of her dead husband in the Hermitage, is a mix of Vaudeville, romance, tragedy and old-fashioned storytelling. Fortunately, the risky combination works well.

The actors from Cambridge Univeristy Amateur Dramatic Club change character rapidly and effectively, and deliver confident, humorous performances. Two onstage musicians – a violinist and pianist – add depth to the story. I was particularly impressed with Janine on keyboard, who doubled as actor.

The stooped and bewildered babushka, though constantly onstage, speaks occasionally and only in Russian – while the others tell her story and jostle her from scene to scene. This made her later, solitary appearance onstage far more poignant.

The stage design makes use of simple technology, and objects frequently moved around by the actors to create a changing environment and rapidly moving story. Russian newspaper becomes priceless art, candles a forest. A rough wooden square becomes the priceless object central to the story.

The play’s use of language is inventive, though occasionally fell flat, most notably shifts of accent. Giving the wealthy Russian art buyer a southern American accent was clever, as was the auctioneer’s Yorkshire, but the Russian accents at times seemed unrehearsed and awkward (at least to me, as someone who lives there).

But the crowded stage, rapid pace, dark subject matter and shifting cast of eccentric characters effectively conveys a feeling of bittersweet Russian romance. Babushka is an entertaining, clever show.

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