(Jason Blake's review appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald,
Belvoir St Theatre, July 15
Until August 23
FOLLOWING Simon Stone's sensational take on Spring Awakening in the Downstairs Theatre last year, you might expect some similarly flashy directorial choices to inform his mainstage debut. Not so. His production of Russian writer Alexei Arbuzov's Khrushchev-era drama is a model of straightforward, sober playmaking with the focus squarely on the actors.
The Promise opens during the World War II Siege of Leningrad, 872 days in which a million or more people were blown to bits, starved or frozen to death. It is during the darkest days of that blockade that teenaged Lika (Alison Bell) encounters Marat (Ewen Leslie) in what is left of his family's apartment. Amid crashing artillery shells, they fall gently and rather chastely in love.
Then Leonidik (Chris Ryan) stumbles in, half dead. Lika, whose mother is a Red Army doctor, coaxes him back to health. Together they dream of a future they share no great faith in seeing: Lika imagines eliminating all disease by the end of the century; Marat wants to build bridges; Leonidik sees himself as a poet. Act two reconvenes the triangle after the war is over. Lika is a medical student. Leonidik and Marat will always be comrades, but now they are rivals, and only one of them can stay. Act three takes place a decade later, again in the same room. Have they fulfilled the promise of their youth? Have they honoured the sacrifice of others? Does the possibility for change remain?