Arcola Theatre, London – until 11 February 2017
“Living is fucking impossible and that’s the truth of it” … The Arcola launch their Revolution Season, marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and exploring its considerable impact, with a new production of Gorky’s The Lower Depths played by an ensemble who will remain on duty for the subsequent play in the main house The Cherry Orchard. And whilst I do enjoy getting to visit and revisit an ensemble, I have to admit to really not enjoying this.
Translated by Jeremy Brooks and Kitty Hunter-Blair and directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, The Lower Depths focuses on the downstairs from Chekhov’s upstairs, the angst of the aristocracy replaced by the desperation of the downtrodden and it really is as much fun as it sounds. A cast of nearly 20 play an assortment of misery-bound miscreants passing through a Moscow lodging house for the destitute, complaining volubly about their lot in life.
My mind was instantly drawn to the contemporary allusions with the devastatingly affecting Love, halfway houses still a vital part in propping up society a century on. But where Zeldin’s writing found the humanity in the grinding repetition of butting heads against the system, here it is just a relentless slog of aimless meanderings and punishing ennui. And over three hours and four acts, the ongoing and cumulative despair of eighteen characters is tough, tough going indeed.