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William Galinsky, Artistic director of Norfolk and Norwich Festival
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Larger than life puppets, duelling pianos and blizzards of newsprint - audiences for Opus No. 7 are in for a true visual spectacle at the UEA Sportspark in Norwich this week.
NNF artistic director William Galinsky reflects on his first experience of the show by Russian director Dmitry Krymov, and why he is excited to be bringing the production to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
I am in Dmitry Krymov’s design studio at the theatre in Moscow where he creates his extraordinary productions. His wife Inna and his assistant Mitya are making tea as Dmitry points out a row of four upholstered theatre seats.
“These are Stanislavsky’s original seats from the Moscow Arts Theatre”.
This is really exciting! You see I am a bit of a Russian theatre obsessive. I studied Russian at university over 20 years ago and as part of my third year abroad spent four months at the Moscow Arts Theatre School – one of the first westerners to do so after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Dmitry had also studied there a decade or so previously – a fact which we immediately bonded over when I first met him in April 2013 when I saw his extraordinary show about the life of the composer Shostakovich, Opus No. 7.
Krymov is currently one of the most successful Russian theatre directors in the world. Opus No. 7 was the toast of New York in January 2013 and his take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a huge hit both at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Edinburgh International Festival in 2012.
I have come back to Moscow a year later for the Golden Mask Festival, the annual round up of the very best of Russian theatre. And boy do the Russians know how to make theatre.
It was at the turn of the 20th century that Constantine Stanislavsky started a revolution in the way actors approach their art and his student Meyerhold revolutionised the art of theatre directing. It’s a revolution that got as far as America through the ‘method acting’ of Lee Strasbourg and the Actors Studio and has hugely influenced even our own Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where I used to teach and direct.
Dmitry Krymov has started a revolution all of his own though.
After training and working as a theatrical set designer he spent the years after the fall of communism as a very successful painter only to start making theatre again with a group of design students.
His is a theatre of magic and transformation, of beautiful, funny and dizzying images and sounds that communicate with its audience far beyond the power of words.
When I saw Opus No. 7 I was struck by his ability to create the most wonderful magic from every day materials. I don’t want to give too much away but in Opus No. 7 the audience experiences the most extraordinary transformation of everyday objects like newspaper, cardboard and paint. These are the materials of a theatre created by a painter who has discovered a giant, moving, three-dimensional canvas.
The previous night I have seen Krymov’s take on Chekhov’s play Three Sisters.
British productions of Three Sisters (and many Russian ones) tend towards the melancholic as the three Prozorov sisters, stuck in a rural Russian garrison town after the death of their General father, long to return to their native Moscow. Krymov’s Three Sisters is an absolute romp: samovars meet St Pepper with a dash of Dick Emery. It is at once an irreverent take on a Russian theatrical sacred cow and a loving, gentle and faithful homage to the spirit of the original. It reminds me of one of American jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck’s playful renditions of Bach. I say this to Dmitry.
“Really! You think it’s like Brubeck? I grew up worshipping Brubeck. He was one of my father’s favourites.”
• Opus No 7 is at the UEA Sportspark, in Norwich, from Wednesday until Saturday at 7.30pm each night.
Tickets £18. For more information and to book tickets visit www.nnfestival.org.uk or call the box office on 01603 766400.