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Masqueradedir Rrimas Tuminas25 – 29 OctoberThe Oxford PlayhouseMikhail Lermontov, the great Rrussian playwright, had a fatal penchant for duelling. Fuelled with vodka, the duels would usually take place with good cheer and plenty of friends. On a day on which he had arranged a duel – the duel that would turn out to be his last – Lermontov was caught in a huge snowstorm. Through the whirling snow he didn’t notice his approachingopponent who took aim, fired and killed him.It is this extravagant lifestyle of high-society Russia that Masquerade, performed by the Lithuanian Small State Theatre as part of Oxford’s Eevolving City Festival, evidently takes inspiration from. Set in the 1830s, a bracelet lost at a masque ball begins the Othello-like tragedy of love and jealousy. Prince Zvevditch is given the lost bracelet by a disguised woman. Aabernin suspects his beautiful young wife, Nina, to whom the bracelet belongs, of having an affair with the Prince. Consumed with jealousy, Abernin poisons his wife only to discover that the bracelet was given to the prince by the Baroness, who has all along been secretly in love with him.Reflecting this fascination with mystery and intrigue, the musical and visual ensemble has a strange illusory quality. The clouds of snow, the wistful music, the solemn female statue peering down upon the characters all combine to transform the tragedy into an eerie fairytale. Ever-growing snowballs, occasionally rolled onto the stage, provide a physical manifestationof how events are quickly spiralling out of control. The chilling visual scene points to the emotional coldness that lies beneath the surface of the characters.The director, Rimas Tuminas, brings quirky touches to the play which lift the tale out of unmitigated heartache. Tuminas depicts aristocrats turned animals when they are shown barking, yelping and being led off stage on a leash, deflating the pomp of 19th century nobility with comic ingenuity. The sense of humour is charmingly surreal: the main action is punctuated by the impromptu appearance of a giant fish and a snorkelerappearing from the water. The play revels in farcical absurdity, but avoids seeming senseless or gratuitous.The real pleasure lies in watching the energetic Vytautas Rrumsas, who plays the Prince. The object of the Baroness’ earnest affections, the so-called “dangerous seducer”, is played as a puffed-up, brazen buffoon, thrusting his groin and flouncing like a Flamenco dancer to woo the angelic Nnina. The way in which this idiotic character is placed in the middle of the disastrous deception is just another twist of the play’s bizarre humour.On the first night, the theme of disguise took on a very literal sense when the surtitles were barely legible through the fake fog and snow. Second time round, it seemed that the production hadn’t quite shed all its translation problems. Occasionally awkwardly phrased, the translation never quite lives up to the exuberance on stage. Nevertheless, Masquerade is performed well enough never to be entirely ?atthemercyofthescript.at the mercy of the script. Buoyantly directed, with an accomplished cast, the visual spectacle and vivid characters mean that the play is able to overcome the language barrier. The play’s hybrid of slightly eccentric comedy and serious tragedy is daring but carried off with charm. It is perhaps an expression of the optimism of this particular theatre group; as the first municipal theatre in Lithuania, the recognition and state subsidies they have received since 1997 have allowed them the freedom to conceive this playful production.The most admirable thing about Masquerade is that it does not take itself too seriously. It’s not too snobbish to spurn the morbidly stern for the occasional bout of frivolous comedy.For Tuminas, instilling a sense of fun into his rendering of this Rrussian classic is an essential part of the Lithuanian package deal.ARCHIVE: 4th week MT 2005

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