The Royal National Theatre has been slowly reviving the major works of the Russian novelist-playwright Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) under the masterful direction of veteran director Howard Davies. THE WHITE GUARD was an enormous success as a novel, then as a play in the 1920s. Even Stalin liked it, which is odd since it is a sympathetic presentation of a family of Tsarist supporters during the 1918 Russian revolution. The National presents the play in an effective new translation by Australian playwright-director Andrew Upton (Mr. Cate Blanchett).
The plays shows us an upper middle class Kiev, Ukraine, family living through one military takeover after another, from the Germans to a provisional military government to the Bolsheviks. The domestic scenes, alternating between comedy and pathos, echo Gorky and Chekhov. In addition there are scenes of harrowing violence (more explosions than I have ever heard in the theater).
The production gives us a fine ensemble cast that would make Stanislavski applaud, but the Master could never conceive of the scenic effects. THE WHITE GUARD uses everything the National's Lyttleton Theatre can achieve. Entire rooms move upstage in a kind of cinematic fadeout. Scenes arise from the floor or descend from the wings. None of it seems like gratuitous special effects.
As the British critics like to say -- unmissable.
THE WHITE GUARD by Mikhail Bulkagov, traslated by Adnrew Upton. Directed by Howard Davies. Designed by Bunny Christie. Featuring Pip Carter, Paul Higgins, and Justine Mitchell. March 18, 2010.