“Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats”. I wait for a moment, expecting others to follow, but when no one does, I start making my way towards the stairs of the Rialto theatre. I turn back a couple of times, but still no one follows, so I take my place in the auditorium. “Please someone join me, please someone join me”, I think to myself, but no one does. Then the lights dim and the show is about to start. “No!” I think, “please don’t let me be the only person in the audience!” but alas, that is exactly what I am.
In the case of Petrushka, the show must go on. For those unfamiliar, Petrushka is a Russian fairytale. An evil puppet master personifies his puppets, threatening them with the fiery furnace if they fail to perform to his expected ability. Petrushka is a clown, in love with the dancer, but the dancer must dance with the Moor, who loves himself. The Grinning Terror tries to advise Petrushka, but to devastating consequences.
Authentic costumes, layers of face paint and a period soundtrack don’t distract from the fact this production of Petrushka is like a time warp, stuck far in the past with little changes by director Sascha Cooper to make it relevant to a modern audience. Yet, Jack Chandler is freakish as the puppet master, grisly and terrifying, and Chris Hayes is talented and sincere as Petrushka, expertly physical in his performance.
Dani Sophia Rose looks the part as The Dancer, yet little emotion seems to lie behind a plastic frontier, and both Daniel Aherne as Grinning Terror and Sophie Methuen-Turner as The Moor, seem to portray their characters in an irritatingly two-dimensional style.
It’s hard to say who this production of Petrushka would appeal to. Perhaps students studying Russian folklore? Yet Cooper and her five-strong cast pour their hearts into the performance, no matter how small the audience.
All festival performances deserve a round of applause, louder than that a solo audience member can provide. So go see Petrushka and decide for yourself whether it’s relevant for a modern audience. But if you find yourself, like I did, to be the only person in the audience, perhaps we could argue together that it needs a modern day reimagining.
Petrushka is playing at the Brighton Fringe from 19 to 20 May, with a final performance on 4 June.
Photo by Caroline Huffy