Once upon a time in 1920, a group of Bolshevik Russians gave the Irish politician deValera some Russian Crown Jewels as collateral for a loan; 28 years later, of course, the Russians want the jewels back. Surely a story about what the Bolsheviks did with the loan during those years would have been thoroughly interesting: however, Luck Penny at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre tells the dragged out, quite uneventful tale of Irishman Dr Regan taking the jewels back to Moscow in return for a ‘Luck Penny’ (nothing special, it turns out — simply a signed napkin).
Despite taking on a sloth-like 90 minute play about a man waiting around in Moscow for a few signatures (and not doing much except for making friends with two ladies), director Cherry Cookson could not have cast it more perfectly. The one-dimensional character of gynaecologist Dr Regan, played by Peter Dineen, sustains his tone and body language for the duration — despite a few concerning shrieks every now and again — and is the perfect choice to attempt the awkward Irish dance.
It is not all doom and gloom for the actors in this production; Cookson’s casting gives the two surprisingly amusing characters a touch of splendour. Mark Straker, who plays Dimitri the hotel manager, keeps us interested with his portrayal of a man so loyal to his communist government that he becomes overwhelmingly paranoid. He tickles the audience even with something that should be unmemorable, such as his insistence that he is a tourist guide. Secondly, Holly Morgan as Irma is an example of a bewitching actress at her finest; it is hard to stop watching her even when she is not speaking in her portrayal of a young woman suffering poverty in Soviet Russia. Her emotions, displayed in everything from her hands to the smallest detail of her eyes, come across as so real that every once in a while they become heart-breaking. Morgan and Straker give at least one part of this production an essence of energy, which didn’t make me think “it must be finished now”, or that I’d rather be listening to Dr David Starkey tell this tale.
If do you want to see Luck Penny at the cosy Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town — perhaps because you have always wondered how the Russians got their crown jewels back from the Irish, and how exactly that crazy deal went down — don’t take a first date, or even your grandmother. It is maybe more suited to your favourite dull history teacher from school.
Luck Penny is playing at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 8 July. For more information and tickets, see The Lion and Unicorn Theatre website.