Facing the Monument: Facing the Future

11 March 2015 | By Bazarov

'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

Some Thoughts on the Ballets Russes Abroad

16 December 2014 | By Isabel Stockholm

Last Orders for the Grand Duchy

11 December 2014 | By Bazarov

Rozanova and Malevich – Racing Towards Abstraction?

15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

Walter Spies, Moscow 1895 – Indonesia 1942

13 August 2014 | By Bazarov

The Genius of Erte

28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Solidarity, people!

24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

Shostakovich: A Russian Composer?

05 December 2013 | By Bazarov

Travelling with intourist

31 July 2013 | By Richard Barling

Theatre Review | Portrait as Presence in Fortune’s Fool (1848) by Ivan Turgenev

10 February 2014 | By Bazarov

A feature of this exquisite and rarely staged play, currenly running at London’s Old Vic theatre, is that two of the principal characters are dead. The supposed father and wronged mother of heiress Olga Petrovna, around whom the play turns, are central to the plot as it unfolds, though both long deceased. But through an ingenious and successful directorial device, they are loomingly present at key moments in the drama.

The stage is set at the opening by an immense full-length portrait of the father, former master of the estate, dominating the stage before a distant view of the mansion. Brooding and in military garb, it is no surprise to find that he was a brutish bully who drove his wife to despair and adultery. A mid-19th-Century society portrait in the style of Ge or Kramskoi, the gravity of the image is disrupted by a full size wardrobe set off-centre into the portrait at the level of the master’s legs. It is from the top shelf of this linen cupboard that we see descend Kuzovkin, ‘an impoverished gentleman’ who, mysteriously, has lived in the mansion for thirty years, watching the growth into womanhood of the young Olga.

The return of Olga from St Petersburg, as bride of the coldly correct Pavel Nikolaitch, a government official, precipitates a crisis in the household of the sort with which readers of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons will be familiar. At a drunken welcome-home party for the new master, Kozovin is taunted as the old master’s fool, and goaded into releasing the dramatic news that Olga is in fact his own daughter, begotten while he was comforting the abused and abandoned mistress of the estate.

In the denouement, which sees the hapless Kozovin banished from the estate after a distraught final meeting with his daughter (echoes of Lear and Cordelia in a minor key), Olga’s ‘father’ and mother once again preside over the scene, their portraits across from one another as the sorry tale unfolds. Before each is set a small icon. The mother is in a softer style, an early Repin perhaps, with a melancholy that seems to set her as the Madonna of the estate. Her icon is tended and glows, Olga’s old nanny genuflects before it. The old master’s icon is unlit.

Fortune's Fool is on show at the Old Vic until 22 February 2014. Book tickets here.