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Review of Brodsky/Baryshnikov at the Apollo Theatre

Brodsky Baryshnikov, Alvis Hermanis and Mikhail Baryshnikov
Brodsky Baryshnikov, Alvis Hermanis and Mikhail Baryshnikov (courtesy Janis Deinats)

When you work in London’s West End, just metres from a cornucopia of theatre and performance, it’s hard not to indulge on a regular basis. Occasionally, something a bit different rears its head and for most of us, the opportunity to broaden our horizons is quite an appealing challenge. Whether or not the production appeals to us and whether or not it is ‘critically good’ are two very different conversations. Brodsky/Baryshnikov is aimed at a very select audience and I have no doubt, that for this audience it is a production that surpasses expectations.

Brodsky/Baryshnikov is a performance art piece based on the works of Russian poet Joseph Brodsky who passed away in 1996 at the age of 55. A close friend of Brodsky, Mikhail Baryshnikov brings to the West End a unique tribute that is somewhere between a poetry recital and abstract movement piece. Visually stunning and with a dynamic use of lighting and soundscape, the set resembles the Von Trapp gazebo, but having seen better days; perhaps this is a metaphor for the work itself, classic but having suffered hardship.

You could be forgiven for expecting that this would be heavily dance based, but this is not the case, and the focus is kept predominantly, and rightly, on the language. Indeed, the most engaging moments are those where Baryshnikov is seated on stage delivering Brodsky’s words with an almost tangible reverence.

On the subject of language, the piece is performed entirely in Russian. I can’t say that I have ever before had the desire to become fluent, however, I really do feel that it would have increased my enjoyment of the piece enormously. Of course, surtitles are provided and are projected onto the roof of the set to ensure that there is little change in focus needed to move between the projection and the performance. Had the dialogue been prose, I think this would have worked perfectly as the brain is able to briefly skim the text and anticipate the narrative flow without too much concentration. Poetry, on the other hand, is a much more delicate art and needs careful consideration to ensure that the audience can fully embrace the linguistic artistry and imagery. With this in mind, it becomes difficult to focus on James Gambrell’s surtitles and fully appreciate the art on stage; which leads me back to my earlier comment lamenting the language barrier.

Under the direction of Alvis Hermanis, Mikhail Baryshnikov delivers an enthralling performance. Moving with sense of purpose and refined precision it is clear to see that there is an intention in each of his movements. It is clear that he is personally invested in the heart of this piece which ensures that the audience remains engaged with his presence even if they temporarily lose sight of the subject matter. His energy and poignancy are maintained during his delivery of both the spoken and movement elements, ensuring that the momentum of the piece remains consistent throughout.

I can’t help but feel that I was unable to engage fully with this production, and this saddens me because I genuinely feel that I was privy to something very special. Indeed, if the reactions of the audience around me were anything to go by, then it certainly hit home with its intended audience. If that isn’t enough to go by, the 4 curtain calls to deafening applause should certainly speak for themselves. For fans of Brodsky or Russian literature, a must!

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Cassandra Griffin

Bird and Carrot presents
Brodsky / Baryshnikov (UK Premiere)
Based on the poems of Joseph Brodsky
Directed by Alvis Hermanis
Performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov
May 3-6, 2017 Apollo Theatre

Brodsky / Baryshnikov is a one-man show based on the poems of Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Conceived and directed by Alvis Hermanis, noted Latvian director of The New Riga Theatre, Brodsky / Baryshnikov is an emotional journey deep into the poet’s visceral and complex compositions. Performed in Russian, Brodsky’s mother tongue, Baryshnikov recites a selection of his long-time friend’s poignant and eloquent works. His subtle physicality transports the audience into Hermanis’ reverent imagining of Brodsky’s interior world.

Performed in Russian with English surtitles
English translation by Jamey Gambrell

Brodsky/Baryshnikov UK PREMIERE is made possible thanks to the generous support of Norvik Banka and Blavatnik Family Foundation.

Running Time: 90 minutes
Show Opened: 3rd May 2017
Booking Until: 7th May 2017

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