Published in 1840, Mikahil Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time is famous for its Byronic hero (or antihero), the Russian army officer Pechorin. A Lothario of his time and always falling in and out of love with women, he does not think of them as much more than recipients of his affections. This story charts his relationship with his friend Grushnitsky, and the woman he loves for real – Vera.
There are many highlights to this show. Oliver Bennett is the perfect Pechorin, at times brooding and bitter, sometimes equally garrulous and excitable. In a very short span of time, he embraces both the light and darker sided of his character.
Grushnitsky is played by James Marlowe, who provides a good foil to the protagonist. Both Pechorin and Grushnitsky vie for Princess Mary, but Pechorin must also reconcile with his feelings for his old flame Vera; Anastasiya Zinovieva plays both Princess Mary and Vera, with quick costume changes transforming her from one to the other.
The production brings nineteenth-century Russia to life: the audience ride with the characters on horses, go to flamboyant dance balls and eventually, are witness to a horrific duel. A copy of the book is a clever prop – Pechorin sometimes reads from it, at other times just holds it up as a reminder of the passage of time. And finally, the overall energy of the cast ensures that there isn’t a dull moment in the show.
Sometimes, however, the speed with which the dialogues are delivered make it difficult to understand the script. I wonder if it was hastily delivered – especially as the performance on the night finished nearly 10 minutes early. And at times, the new adaptation's interpretation of the story felt like it was taking an opportunity for some easy laughs.
But one of the wonderful things about the Edinburgh Fringe is the opportunity to watch theatre from all over the world, and this show is a great way to sample some Russian literature. This fresh adaptation of A Hero Of Our Time makes it more relevant, but also retains the ‘magical’ elements of the book – a win!