REVIEW: The White Guard

This year has seen a rekindling of appreciation of Russian literature. In Russia, it s the year of Leo Tolstoy, Andrei Platinov s Foundation Pit is set for a new translation, and the National Theatre s adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov has been received with

This year has seen a rekindling of appreciation of Russian literature.

In Russia, it's the year of Leo Tolstoy, Andrei Platinov's Foundation Pit is set for a new translation, and the National Theatre's adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov has been received with all the eagerness of a free shot of vodka in St Petersburg in sub-Arctic January.

And the National theatre has pulled out all the stops with its adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov's 1926 civil war novel, The White Guard.

It tells the story of a Ukrainian family torn apart during the bloody confluence of four armies vying for supremacy in Kiev; the Whites, the fleeing Germans, the Ukranian nationalists, and the eventually victorious Bolsheviks.


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Andrew Upton's adaptation combines the urgency and horror of a city in the throes of internecine warfare with the uproarious humour that would later define Bulgakov's magnum opus, The Master and Margarita.

But while the set is exquisite and realistic, and the play's pace frenetic despite its 2hrs 40mins, there is something amiss: it is just too English.

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Russian humour, delivered with all the affectations of a Bullingdon club X Factor-style elocution competition, feels like Steve McLaren's Dutch accent: not quite right, a pastiche.

Accents aside, Justine Mitchell carries the role of the abandoned, grief-beset and lusted-after Elena with gravitas and delicacy, and Paul Higgins makes for a believable young soldier: idealistic, brave and drunk.

Vodka seems to be the characters' only respite during the gun-toting carnage, and for a play with as much substance as this, it's only right to raise a glass to the director. Nazdrovia!

johnny.mcdevitt@archant.co.uk

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