UEA’s school of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing presents this year’s third year production of: TOCKA- A Triptych of Russian plays. Third year Drama students rediscover Three Classic Russian Plays: The Storm, The Fruits of Enlightenment and The Cherry Orchard, running from the 6th-10th December. VENUE spent some time with the cast to find out a little bit more about the experience.
An interview with the director, James Robert Carson
A theatre and opera director, he has worked extensively in theatre and opera both here and abroad. He is a graduate of the University of Stirling; spent two years working in experimental theatre in San Francisco; studied Noh Drama in Tokyo and directing at the Drama Centre, London. He is the artistic director of NOISE, New Opera in Scotland Events. Currently working at UEA alongside students in the Drama course, I asked him some questions on his experience of directing third year productions.
Why do you feel that Russian plays during this time period are so important/special?
This period of Russian literature is so formative in the study of drama and our knowledge of plays. It is the period that results in Stanislavski- you could say that it is the beginning of the modern period in theatre that Stanislavski is involved in, you can understand Stanislavski in the context of the theatrical culture that he came from- he was a development of an incredibly sophisticated and interesting period in dramatic literature. That was what brought me to the period initially, and on a subjective level I always wanted to do The Storm because I think it is a fabulous play.
Is The Storm your favourite play out of the three plays that you are putting on, then?
I like The Storm- it is a wonderful play. However, God sent us a play and that is The Cherry Orchard and I think it is totally, utterly, unremittingly sublime. It is like having children when you are directing three plays- you cannot make one your favourite. When you are in the rehearsal room, when you’re dealing with the cast- that has got to be your favourite in that moment. In that sense I do not have a favourite.
What has been your favourite part of the process of directing the three plays?
Identifying the links between the three plays, which identify a cultural common concern.
What are those common concerns?
A concern for what is our place in society, how we treat each other, how do we use knowledge to forward the condition of mankind, what is the position of men and women in that society and how does God enter into our lives and how do we deal with concerns of metaphysics… but all that is part of the bigger question of ‘how should we lead our lives and what is good action and what is bad action’. It looks at the individual making a decision for themselves, or for the greater good- the individual needs versus society. Russia in that period was going through enormous changes- almost a transition from a medieval society to a modern society within fifty years.
Do you have a favourite character- or one that sparked intrigue?
I like all the characters- but there is something about Ranyevskaya and Katerina- you can call them the diva characters. Fascinating, mysterious women. The way they lead their lives- individualists, taking their own paths that are not necessarily good for them, but forces of desire impel them. They are looking for freedom. They are not rational beings.
What do you mean by not rational?
Following emotional instinct, which is a wonderful thing in the theatre as we can live vociferously. I think a part of the fun of the theatre is to see the possibility of what happens when you live by instinct. It is the same as why I love why opera- this incredible female power.
An interview with the cast members of each play
Firstly we have Nina Cavaliero, playing Kabanova in ‘The Storm’.
Nina, please can you tell us about your character in The Storm, and something you find particularly interesting about her.
I play Kavanova, who is Katerina’s mother-in-law. She is a fierce matriarch who rules the roof- a merchant woman. She is horrible. She cannot deal with letting go of her son and allowing him to have a life with his wife, so she decides that it is her mission to ruin Katerina and remind her of all she does that is wrong. And the thing I find particularly interesting about approaching Kabanova is trying to find the humanity in her horrid behaviour. The way we have been looking at it is that she herself has come from a very hard upbringing, and she does not know how to express love or emotion for her son, so the easiest way for her to do that is by shutting him and his wife out.
What have you most enjoyed about taking on the role and has there been a big challenge that you have faced?
I have really enjoyed inhabiting her because she is hilarious and undercuts everything everyone says- and that’s a very amusing thing. It’s been nice ordering everyone around and making them do what I say- haha! The hardest thing has definitely been bringing different layers to her character, and making her a more complicated representation of a woman rather than an angry stereotype.
What element of the production have you most enjoyed?
I think the nicest thing, and I probably speak for most of us, has been being able to spend all this time with people that I have been on the degree course for two years now. It is lovely spending time with people I know so well, as well as getting to know people through the process. Learning all these skills along with everyone else, we all have each other’s backs.
Do you think there is anything special about Russian Dramatic Literature, and if so, what?
It explores quite a different world to ours- especially in The Storm- the way the characters express emotion is so distinct from any play I have ever read before. Also in The Cherry Orchard, the depth and wealth of emotion is fascinating- and these three plays really show a really different way of exploring a different existence to our own.
From the third play, The Fruits of Enlightenment, we have Rosa Caines, who is playing The Mistress.
Rosa, tell can you tell us all about your character and what you find intriguing about her?
The Fruits of Enlightenment is quite a mad play; it’s quite zany- I play The Mistress who is hysterical. She is in charge of the house, she is ferocious- I get to shout at everyone, I get to wear a fabulous dress. She hates germs and loves herself- she is a lot of fun to play. It’s all hysterical and very heightened. It is a very fun, fast play. A bit farcical, a bit cheeky.
Do you have a favourite line of your character’s?
A lot of my lines are just ‘OUT- OUT- GET THEM AWAY’.
Why should people come to see the Third Year Productions?
All three plays are really different and show so much variety. Just the amount of energy that has gone into them- the costume, the lighting- just everything- not just the acting. You’ll have a laugh, maybe a little sob- you’ll have it all. It’ll be great.
Lauren Milwain has been cast as Lyuba Ranyevskaya in The Cherry Orchard.
Lauren, can you tell us about Ranyevskaya.
The main thing I love about her is her ability to be so resilient through everything she has gone through. So, for example, at the start of the play she has returned after five years- and a lot has happened: she lost her husband and her son within a month. When she returns, she is a completely changed woman. She returns to the environment expecting all to remain the same as how she left it, which of course none of it is, which is destroying on her image of what Russia is in general. I really sympathise with her. At first I viewed her as very destructive and was unsure of the character, but now I can understand why she has done all she has. I admire her.
Is there something about the play you find fascinating?
I just love the way Chekhov writes- I’ve loved Chekhov for a long time. Before we began these plays, I knew I loved Russian theatre: The Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya- then coming into The Cherry Orchard I can see how Chekhov creates these characters- all so different, but they all work like little cogs. In his brain, they all mesh together and it just works. You would never expect to have people and characters with such different personalities and views in the same room. I think it is wonderful.