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Review: A Hero of Our Time, at Arcola Theatre

Monty Python-esque tone in adaptation of 19th-century novel by Mikhail Lermontov makes for an extremely enjoyable comedy

01 December, 2018 — By ERIN COBBY

James Marlowe and Oliver Bennett in A Hero of Our Time

THIS modern adaptation of the largely forgotten 19th-century novel by Mikhail Lermontov is a hilarious masterclass on creating winning comedy with few actors in a very limited space.

The play focuses on ex-soldier and permanent bachelor Pechorin (Oliver Bennett), who is described by Lermontov as “a portrait made up of all the vices – amongst the present generation”.

While Pechorin does display abhorrent behaviour in his pursuit of Princess Mary (Scarlett Saunders), and betrayal of fellow suitor Grushnitsky (James Marlowe), the company’s humorous adaptation gives Pechorin a disarming charm, allowing the audience to forgive his sociopathic tendencies.

The tone is Monty Python-esque as the actors use the sparse props to explore several different locations: a ballroom, a cliff top, and a doctor’s office are all convincingly created through projection, a sofa and a rug (which doubles up as a piece of AstroTurf).

Similarly, through the use of hats, accents and mirrors, the three-person cast is effectively filled out; Bennett excellently plays the pivotal role of the doctor by placing a book over his face.

Modern references are employed alongside 19th-century sensibilities to add a further element of the absurd. During a ballroom scene Pechorin asks the audience: “Whatever happened to Kevin Costner?” while a projected Princess Mary sings a heartfelt rendition of My Heart will Go On. Grushnitsky stares on adoringly, while Saunders, as Pechorin’s original love interest Vera, gives Pechorin a very animated handjob.

The whole piece is an explosion of emotion, an escalating incredulity which, despite reflecting the dark source material in tone towards the end, is an extremely enjoyable comedy.

Until December 15
020 7503 1646

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