By Vassily Sigarev
Directed by Tamzin Nugent
With Laura Gordon, Dion Mills, David Whiteley, Peter Hosking, Dawn Klingberg & Hugh Sexton
GREEN ROOM AWARD NOMINATION: BEST ACTRESS (Laura Gordon)
Black Milk (29/08/2003 – 21/09/2003)- Chris Boyd, Herald Sun 02-Sep-03
London critics are comparing this young Russian playwright with Dostoyevsky, but the novelist was never this chilling, nor his world never this utterly banal or godless.
Watching Black Milk, I was reminded of the story of Odysseus sacrificing a ram letting its blood pump into a ditch so that the Greek hero could speak with a dead prophet.
Thats what playwright Vassily Sigarev is doing. Slitting the throats of his vile characters.
Not to damn them or us to hell, but to exhume the consciences of the Russian people. To raise their dead souls.
In this post-communist nativity story, Mary and Joseph are natural-born swindlers named Shura and Lyovchik: city-slickers ripping off peasants with their cheap toasters. They suck on cigarettes and lollies.
Somewhere in the epicentre of their boundless motherland, Shura goes into labour at a railway station.
Lyovchik leaves his wife in the care of strangers for 10 days or so to continue his rolling sales pitch.
When he returns for Shura and their daughter, all has changed.
Despite its repetitions and mundanities, and its magically sudden tilts of emotion and mood, Black Milk has a killer role for a young woman.
She has to be hellcat bitch; a Madonna in follow-me-home boots and fishnets, rocked by the undeserved kindness of strangers and by the birth of a girl after aborting at least a dozen others before her.
Laura Gordon is startlingly good as the foul-mouthed Shura.
Though she hasnt entirely cracked the character open Im not at all sure there would be enough nuclear material within to fuel her acting reaction in any case Gordon flays us with her voice and gives us a glimpse into hell.
We can see her alabaster skin glowing red from its heat.
There is a cursory attempt by the playwright and director Tamzin Nugent at redemption at the end of the first act.
Using the Gavin Bryars composition Jesus Blood, the redeemer is quickly killed off.
Poisoned get this by home-brewed vodka.
Look out, Russia, your kingdom is coming.
David Whiteley and Laura Gordon in Black Milk. Picture: Jodie Hutchinson.
Helen Thomson, The Age 02-Sep-03
Black Milk (29/08/2003 – 21/09/2003) by Vassily Sigarev. Directed by Tamzin Nugent.
Red Stitch has made another interesting choice with Black Milk, a contemporary Russian play that opens a window on the clash of values as Russia transforms itself into something resembling a capitalist economy.
Vassily Sigarev keeps alive the potential for both tragedy and comedy, a balancing act that climaxes with a potentially horrific ending being undercut by the absurdly mundane. His message seems to be that both potentialities exist and are being played out all over Russia in varying keys.
Lyovchik (David Whiteley) and his heavily pregnant wife, Poppet (Laura Gordon), a pair of con artists who have been off-loading shonky toasters, are stranded on a station. While they wait for the train, they are pursued by some of their victims (Dawn Klingberg, Hugh Sexton) and learn of criminal activity from the ticket-seller (Dion Mills), who is making a fortune manufacturing vodka for the drink-sodden locals, one of whom (Peter Hosking), seems to live in the waiting room.
The old world of Russian kindliness and hospitality is contrasted with the new, aggressive milieu of opportunistic, money-obsessed entrepreneurs such as Lyovchik and Poppet, yet this contrast is slyly undercut by the older forms of greed and exploitation in the vodka vendors.
Tamzin Nugent directs the kind of full-blooded performances we have come to expect from Red Stitch, Dion Mills makes an amusing, cross-dressing ticket-seller, with Whiteley and Gordon as the married couple. When Poppet gives birth, she is, for a time, absorbed into the old Russia and its kindly values. Her conversion is as infused with irony as the satiric picture of the new one.
Like Russia itself, the married couple seem poised at a moment of choice, but Sigarev suggests that human nature and Russian society will dictate a new world as muddled and corrupt as the old.
This is lively, thought-provoking and interesting theatre on a subject little addressed elsewhere.