By Ellie Andrews
Manchester School of Theatre’s production of Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide opened this week at HOME, Manchester. The play is part of HOME’s new Autumn/Winter Season, ‘A Revolution Betrayed?’, exploring the Bolshevik Revolution and marking it 100 years on.
The Suicide is Erdman’s satirical farce and, written in 1928, it developed a reputation for critiquing the newly formed Soviet Union of the time. As a result, the text was banned and remained unperformed until 1969.
The Suicide follows an unemployed man called Seymon Semyonovich (Ned Cooper), who lives with his wife (Kailey McGowan) and step-mother (Maryam Ali). After an argument over rations of liver sausage, Seymon decides to learn to play the tuba, in a bid to escape his impoverished life. After a failed attempt, he decides that killing himself is his only option. Word of his intended suicide quickly spreads and he is soon visited by several acquaintances, all bidding for his suicide to benefit their own cause.
The play’s cast of 14 were terrific and each performance complimented the next. Cooper’s portrayal of Seymon stood out as a particularly impressive performance. Despite Seymon’s self-serving and blatant selfishness throughout, raising the question of whether he is any less morally corrupt than the other characters, Cooper’s charismatic performance made it easier to empathise with the character.
David Shirley’s direction was strong; it was pleasing to see that he had remained faithful to the Russian context of the original text, not only choosing to enforce a Russian dialect, which was particularly entertaining in Ali’s performance as Serafima, but also using the Russian language in some cases. The adaptation of certain characters to fit a Mancunian stereotype was interesting and engaged positively with the audience. However, it was hard not to feel as though, if anything were to be modernised, it would be the female characters, who were too often dismissed and overshadowed.
The play is well-paced and runs for approximately two-and-a-half hours, with a 15 minute interval. If you’re hoping to see a tragedy, you will have to be patient with The Suicide as it adopts a comic tone throughout, which contrasts with its dramatic conclusion. The play depicts the threatening nature of the Soviet Union, the discovery of class-consciousness, and, all the while, highlights the flaws of the Communist regime through mocking humour. A timeless production, that still holds relevance today.
The Suicide is running until Saturday 4th November. For tickets and information, visit the HOME website.