11 September 2015

The Promise at the White Bear Theatre lived up to its, er, promise

I choose my theatre for various reasons but this is the first time that the main reason was the poster.

The poster for The Promise (pictured) was wildly evocative with hints of the famous Willow Pattern and the three people crossing the bridge. The setting was actually Russia and the story began in the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1942 which evoked its own images and increased my desire to see it. I had read a few Russian novels, all obvious ones, and seen and heard a reasonable amount of Russian theatre (Chekov etc.) so I had some idea of what to expect.

I had developed a routine for the White Bear Theatre which I put into practise and which worked well. I left work promptly (early may be more accurate) and walked all the way down from Kings Cross to The Dog House in Kennington for something to eat before walking the final short leg to the theatre where I started the evening with a coffee.

I took a seat not too far from the entrance to the theatre and so was one of the first in when summoned. That meant that I got my usual place in the centre of the front row. The place filled nicely and may even have been full, I do not recall but I hope it was.

The stage was already occupied by a lone figure Lika (Eleri Jones) sitting in a derelict room and wrapped in a blanket for warmth. I do not take photographs during performances but I do not consider the time before the lights go down to be part of the performance even if there is already something happening on stage, so I took this picture while I waited.

The Promise told the story of three people in three parts. We saw them come together as teenagers during the siege of Leningrad then around a decade later and then a decade after that. Over those decades the three people changed, their relationships changed and, through them, we saw how the world they lived in changed.

Again, I'll gladly admit to not being an expert on Russian literature but it struck me as being similar to the way that I remembered Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky all commented on society through the stories of individuals. There were some big themes in play here with the veneer of a romantic story to frame them. And as with those Russian masters the play told its tale well while dragging us through twenty years of difficult history to do so.

There was a gentle love triangle running through the story as both Marat (Tony Eccles) and Leonidik (Theo St. Claire) took a shine to Lika. She married one of them and the other carried on loving her. The other main theme was the way that the two sets of lives prospered differently with one man working in the public sector and the other in the private.

The Promise was dark but never grim and was kept sparkling and human by the strength of the three characters who all were all survivors in a world that continued to throw obstacles at them.

It did everything that the poster said it would do and I liked it immensely.

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