Boris Godunov 2006 / 2007 / 2008 / 2009 / 2010

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Tremendous and stirring... a splendid, bursting, mighty themed epicThe Independent
A thrilling vision of Pushkin's young masterpiece staged with breathtaking panacheThe Guardian
100% proof theatreIzvestia, Moscow

Pushkin's lyrical masterpiece is a gripping exposé of the seductive appeal of power and the terrible price that must be paid for it. Money, corruption, sex and blood thicken this sinuous and radical play, inspired by Shakespeare's histories.

A Chekhov International Festival Production in Association with Cheek by Jowl.

Cast

In alphabetical order

Alexey DadonovGavrila Pushkin, Pushkin's nephew Shcheklalov, the Duma Scribe
Alexander FeklistovBoris Godunov, the Russian Tzar
Irina GrinevaMarina Mnishek, Yuri Mnishek's daughter
Ilia IlinPrince Vorotynsky, Russian Prisoner
Nikolay KhmelevFather Varlaam Karela, the Cossack
Olga KhokholvaOwner of the tavern
Leonid KrasovitskyPoet
Andrey KuzichevGrigori Otrepyev, a young monk (The Lowry)
Sergey LanbaminPrince Vasily Shuisky (Warwick Arts Centre and the Barbican)
Alexander LenkovFather Misail, Nikolka the God's fool
Avangard LeontievPrince Vasily Shuisky (The Lowry)
Nikita LukinTsarovitch Feodor, Boris' son, Russian boy
Evgeny MironovGrigori Otrepyev, a young monk (Warwick Arts Centre and the Barbican)
Evgeny PlekhanovSobansky, Bailiff
Dmitry ScherbinaSemyon Godunov, Prince Kurbsky
Oleg VavilovPatriarch, Yuri Mnisheck, the Polish nobleman
Igor YasulovichPimen, the monk Pushkin
Elena ZakharovaTsarevna Xenia, Boris' daughter
Mikhail ZhigalovFather Superior, Chief Bailiff/ Catholic Priest Basmanov, army leader

Creatives
DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
Lighting DesignerJudith Greenwood
 
Music DirectorMaxim Gutkin
ChoreographerIrina Filippova
 
Declan Donnellan'sInterpreter and Literary Consultant Dina Dodina
 
Assistant DirectorsEvgeny Pisarev, Anna Kolesnikova
 
Technical DirectorVladimir Kizeev
Stage ManagerEkaterina Cheremina
LightingSergey Timchenko, Sergey Govorushkin, Alexey Chesnokov
SoundValery Antonov
Make-upTatiana Abdullaeva
StageGeorgy Siprashvili, Dmitry Khodin
WardrobeNataliya Vedeneeva
 
InterpreterAnna Kolesnikova
Surtitle AdaptationDina Dodina
 
Company ManagerOlga Sharapova
UK Production ManagerMartin Taylor
 
Tour ManagerSvetlana Semenova
Foreign Projects CoordinatorGalina Kolosova
General ProducerValery Shadrin

2009

Shall we begin with fire or water? Declan Donnellan harnesses the elements to spectacular effect in the Chekhov International Theater Festival's production of Alexander Pushkin's "Boris Godunov," a transcendent tale of all too earthly power. But don't be misled into thinking that this remarkable work of theater shares anything with the wall-to-wall pyrotechnics of a stadium rock concert.

Mr. Donnellan uses flame and flood with the selective hand of an artist who understands that a single well-chosen detail sears itself into the imagination, while nonstop sound-and-light shows are merely numbing. So our introduction to fire in this latest offering from the Lincoln Center Festival 2009, which runs only through Sunday at the Park Avenue Armory, is of a man on a long black stage, squinting through the flames of tall liturgical candles to examine the pure face of a barefoot boy in a nightshirt, the ghost of a child he had killed.

As for water, it's hard to imagine a more richly corrupt courtship scene than the one that occurs by, and within, the tranquil pool that is discovered beneath the floorboards of the stage about halfway through the show. A man and a woman get wet, get riled and strip down to an unconditional nakedness that has nothing to do with nudity. The exposedness of both should be a sobering lesson to all people of power who expect to be loved "for themselves."

The characters flirting with the elements in the above-described scenes are infused with a lust for supreme power. The man who sees ghosts is Boris Godunov, a newly crowned Russian czar with the killing of a prince on his conscience. The couple in the water are a pretender to the Russian throne, who calls himself Dmitri, and Marina, the aristocratic Polish beauty he seeks to marry. And each of these three is invested with a singleness of purpose that lends danger to whatever they wish for.

Yet they are, in the final analysis, rather ordinary souls, people whose particular ambitions happen to connect, at the right moment, with the fantasies of a nation longing for forceful leadership. The winner has no guarantees that public favor will remain with him. On the contrary, he knows that such favor is anxious, fickle, ever-changing and ready to expose him at any moment for the fraud he knows he is.

I am hard pressed to think of a recent production that conveys with such magnificence the base humanness of those who would rule the world. This staging of "Boris Godunov," written by Pushkin when he was only in his 20s, follows the colliding fortunes of its title character and a young monk who takes it upon himself to avenge the murder of the czarevitch whose death allowed Boris to claim the throne.

Working with a Russian-speaking cast (with projected supertitles in English), Mr. Donnellan and the designer Nick Ormerod (best known as the leaders of the imaginative British company Cheek by Jowl) have retold Pushkin's story of late-16th-century imperial Russia in modern dress, with the familiar contemporary accessories of video cameras, microphones and flash-illuminated photo ops. Certainly, there is nothing revolutionary in this approach. (Business suits and camouflage gear have become de rigueur in Shakespeare history plays.)

The implicit notion here, as is often the case with such deliberately anachronistic interpretations, is that the politics of yore was politics as usual, a dirty business that changes little over the centuries. But Mr. Donnellan isn't just aiming for easy parallels between then and now. He surrounds his familiar-seeming characters, most of whom would look perfectly at home on the steps of the Kremlin today, with a sense of the mythic, of an arbitrary power called history that shapes its participants in ways they can never entirely grasp.

This is not to suggest that the leading characters in "Boris Godunov" are ciphers, interchangeable foot soldiers in the armies of time. On the contrary, "Boris Godunov" (far more than the Mussorgsky opera with which it shares a title) creates power players shaped by complex and highly individual forms of ambivalence that bring to mind Shakespeare's great aspirants to the crown: Richard III, Macbeth and the usurping Bolingbroke of "Richard II."

At least that's the way the leading men of "Boris Godunov" come across in the extraordinary, layered performances of Alexander Feklistov as Boris and Evgeny Mironov as Grigory, the runaway monk who leads a revolution by posing as the rightful heir to the throne. In his boxy business suits, the burly Mr. Feklistov brings to mind a composite of Soviet leaders in the pre-perestroika years, from Khrushchev to Gorbachev.

He is a smiling man of bull-like physicality, who picks people up and tosses them about as if they were rag dolls. Working a crowd in a state procession, he exudes a harsh joviality that is scarier than any forbidding frown. The dyspeptic spasms that cross his face suggest that fear - of past deeds, of rivals, of the waywardness of the people he rules, whose voices regularly sound in acclaim and dissent from actors positioned among the audience - never leaves this man who would be fearless.

In his evolution from cowering monk to charismatic rebel, Mr. Mironov keeps us aware of the shaky pretender beneath the pose. Grigory has a physical defect - one arm is shorter than the other - and you can gauge his degree of confidence by noting how conscious he is of that arm. In moments of uncertainty, such awareness all but cripples him. And in the gorgeous fountain-side scene in which he woos Marina (the uncanny Irina Greneva), Mr. Mironov seems to sort through an entire lifetime of doubts.

Grigory's final victory over those doubts is, like all victories in "Boris Godunov," provisional. From the very beginning Mr. Donnellan has presented the fight for the crown within a frame of liturgical ceremony, with phalanxes of Russian Orthodox priests and monks who chant and move in stately procession. Though it becomes clear that many of these men of God are just as worldly as warriors and politicians, they also represent a detachment from things worldly that even the play's most ambitious characters ultimately aspire to.

In an early scene in which we first see Grigory, he is serving an old monk (Igor Yasulovich), who records the history of his time by candlelight, striving to see the pattern that emerges from the chaos of conflict. Throughout the play, people will speak of yearning for a god's-eye view in the muddle of battle. Of course, those in the thick of the struggle can't have it both ways.

But a resourceful artist like Mr. Donnellan can, allowing us a sharp, rare double vision - of visceral intimacy and cosmic distance - that elicits a genuine greatness in Pushkin's play that its characters could never hope for. Ben Brantley, New York Times, USA. 24 July 2009

2008

4 stars
Strange to see Pushkin's 1825 epic so soon after Shakespeare's Histories: we are back in a world of guilt-haunted rulers and clamorous power-seekers. Declan Donnellan's Russian-language Cheek By Jowl production, first seen at the 2001 Brighton Festival, brings the play forcefully home by staging it in modern-dress on a 20-metre catwalk. It also boasts a performance by Evgeny Mironov that rivals Jonathan Slinger's magnetism in Richard III.

Mironov plays a young monk, Grigori, who assumes the identity of the murdered tsarevich, Dimitri, in order to claim Boris's throne. Mironov's physical mutations, as he gets closer to power, are extraordinary.

He starts as a halting recluse, turns into a glittering game-show host as he recruits sympathisers and, in the production's finest scene, woos a Polish princess across a pool. Mironov resembles a Slav Olivier in his capacity for danger and darting suddeness: he looks as likely to strangle Irina Grineva's princess as to seduce her and, mission accomplished, he dives into the water like a demonic porpoise. Power, Mironov suggests, is both an aphrodisiac and a source of madness.

Alexander Feklistov's chunky, vodka-tippling Boris, having murdered his way to the throne, also never enjoys peace: he eyes subordinates warily and broods on the fickleness of the multitude. Pushkin shows his mentor Shakespeare's grasp of the seductive illusion of power which Donnellan's intelligent production turns into an icy comment on contemporary Russia. Michael Billington, The Guardian, UK. 15 May 2008
Declan Donnellan and his acclaimed Cheek by Jowl Russian company are back, with their version of Pushkin's 1825 blank-verse drama. The modern-dress production, here performed in Russian with surtitles, displays all of Donnellan's clarity and flair. Gesture and imagery are economical and eloquent and there's a forceful fluidity to scenes that, played on a narrow traverse stage, rush into one another as if the tide of events was unstoppable.

Strikingly reminiscent of Macbeth, it's part-political thriller, part-historical chronicle, imbued with incense and ritual and dripping with the blood of children.

Set during Russia's Time of the Troubles, Pushkin's play is concerned with the dubious accession of Boris Godunov and the attempt by a renegade monk, Grigori Otrepyev, to unseat him. Boris becomes Tsar following the murder of Dmitry, the seven-year-old son of Ivan the Terrible, a crime of which Pushkin, unlike many historians, finds Godunov guilty.

Grigori claims, with shameless duplicity, that he is the grown-up Dmitry, come to claim his birthright. As Godunov (Alexander Feklistov) wrestles with his conscience and struggles to maintain his position, the impostor raises Polish support and embarks on a remorseless campaign of usurpation.

Donnellan crowds the stage with vivid imagery. Noblemen jostle for position, the poor and the desperate line the routes of the powerful, ready to change allegiance at the first breath of a promise to improve their lot. Priests process and chant, while there's torture and interrogation in Grigori's military camp. There's the ghostly figure of the slaughtered Dmitry, barefoot in his nightshirt, and there is Godunov's own son Feodor, also doomed to violent death.

The production's best scene illustrates the allure of power through lust of a more carnal kind. Wooing the Polish noble's daughter Marina Mnishek next to a fountain, Evgeny Mironov's intense Grigori reveals his deception to her. Her ardour drains away - only to be revived, in a splashing, ecstatic embrace, when she realises the ruthlessness of his ambition.

It's a rare moment of potent emotional immediacy. That scarcity means that, for a British viewer, the true dramatic significance of Pushkin's work remains elusive. But with this rich, textural staging Donnellan brings it closer to us. Sam Marlowe, The Times, UK. 15 May 2008
4 stars
Most people know the story of Boris Godunov only through Mussorgsky's opera.

Thanks to Declan Donnellan and Russian company Cheek by Jowl, we now have a rare chance to experience Pushkin's original 1825 play. In a thrilling modern-dress version, it emerges as a mordant commentary on the instabilities of power and the repetitive nature of tyranny, and it crackles with edgy, topical relevance.

The play poses a challenge to directors: not only is it restlessly episodic and labourintense in terms of casting, it also lacks a conventional climax. There's no big showdown between the two rivals for the throne. Having murdered his way to the top, Tsar Boris is challenged by a young pretender, a runaway monk who claims to be the boy allegedly eliminated. Frustratingly, the two never met. Undaunted, Donnellan finds imaginative solutions to this problem and arrives at a unified vision of the piece.

The point about the warring opponents is that they are both fundamentally impostors and the production, in overlapping scenes, highlights that thematic kinship. For example, Grigory, the made-over monk, surfaces like the emanation of a bad conscience, eerily replacing the spectre of the child-victim as Alexander Feklistov's boorish Boris broods over his guilt.

Pushkin's crucial insight is that the pretender's supporters don't care whether he's fake: Grigory here acts like a game show host who welcomes his cheer-leaders with a slick insincerity. The theatre audience, seated on either side of the catwalk stage, are treated like the Russian mob to these cynical, showbiz exercises.

Evgeny Mironov's excellent Grigory has just the right slippery quality as the protean pretender who sheds disguises like skins. His seduction of a Polish noblewoman proceeds by comic fits and starts. When he confesses his true identity, she allows him to resume once assured of his mad self-conviction. Power is the sexual turn-on; principle is utterly discounted. Paul Taylor, the Independent, UK. 14 May 2008