The March on Russia is the story of an old couple and their three middle-aged children on their 60th Wedding Anniversary. Set in the playwright’s (David Storey) hometown in Yorkshire, a definite chilly feeling runs through the play. Mr Pasmore (Ian Gelder) desperately tries to allay this with neurotic fire-poking and incessant tea-drinking.
The relationship between the Pasmore’s after sixty years of marriage is something everyone has seen before; vibes of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? can be felt in the unrelenting yet affectionate pokes and digs they make at each other.
The interpersonal relationships are powerful and moving – in no small part due to the incredible calibre of the acting. In particular, a truly touching performance from Gelder really drives the play forward as we see his anxieties about ageing and change, as well as his genuine affection for his wife and children. His wife (Sue Wallace) is witty with a harsh tongue, and reserved, but not insincere, maternal instincts.
The play moves at a leisurely pace, which suits the tone; there is a feeling of stagnation, but also of familiarity and comfort.
Admittedly, the second half does seem to drag a bit. Pace and movement is promised by some startling and honest confessions before the interval, but the audience is left with these problems unresolved, as they leave the door with the characters who confess them. Perhaps this is the point? Perhaps we are meant to feel this ‘elephant in the room’, which is actually far harder to come to terms with than many plays would suggest.
The politics of the play cannot be ignored. The matter is represented in person by the overbearing daughter, Wendy, (Sarah Belcher) who has just changed allegiances. Digs are made at every member of the family for their respective votes. It definitely seems relatable in the current climate of political confusion and turmoil when many convivial family dinners have turned rapidly into intense debates.
This play definitely makes one feel the pain of getting older. A frustrating sense of disjointedness invades the relationships, brought out by their separate lives and goals. Definitely not a feel-good play, but perhaps worth watching for its stark naturalism and extremely poignant moments of emotional connection.
The March on Russia is playing at the Orange Tree Theatre until October 7.
Photo: Helen Maybanks