views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Harvest
Soho Theatre
27th May 2015

★★★☆☆

Dafydd Llyr Thomas and Dyfan Dwyfor as Egor and Valerii

Photography © Simmon Annand

Egor (Dafydd Llyr Thomas), Ira (Beth Park) and Lyuba (Lindsey Campbell) are harvesting apples, led by Valerii (Dylan Dwyford) who instructs them on how to collect them one by one and gently place them into crates. These apples are delicate and the slightest knock will result in them spoiling and causing all the others in the same box to rot. Who knew apple-picking could be such an exact science? The four protagonists seem quite simple, but there's a definite undercurrent of maturing sexuality with the boys staring at the girls as they bend over, the girls exchanging death glares as one gets more attention from Valerii or Egor, and the boys trying to outdo each other in pointless macho pride which ends up with plenty of blood and not a lot to show for it. Apple-picking hard, crate mending harder.

The Harvest does admittedly have a slow start - there is a lot of apple-picking and petty power play and you do wonder if this is all that's going to happen. However, suddenly something shifts and you can feel a real sense of purpose to the production. The repetition of certain phrases in Sasha Dugdale's translation starts to feel intelligent and deliberate and the characters' increasingly ridiculous attitudes and seemingly made up health conditions begin to underline the futility of their endeavours. It would be unfair to say that nothing happens, but there's still something circular about the writing by Belarusian playwright Pavel Pryazhko which is in some ways reminiscent of Chekhov. Sir Michael Boyd's direction is crisp and sharp, with his framing of the final scenes nothing short of a delight. Here the visual payoff very much justifies the journey, and you forgive the earlier lagging.

The set and lighting are gorgeous. Madeleine Girling suspends green apples from the ceiling at varying lengths above a stage covered in fake grass, instantly evoking an orchard. The warm lighting by Charles Balfour creates shadows dancing on the back wall, with the grey dots making the trees double in number and reinforcing the idyllic setting. It's a natural, simple outdoor space that goes on forever, tended to by manual workers and untouched by industrialisation. There's a very wholesome feel to the design, and there's some clever planning by Girling which allows the staging to self-destruct over time in the same way as the protagonists do - the slightest knock and all that...

Interludes involving more fruit collection are frequent and not particularly short. Sound designer Andrea J Cox overlays the action with an old-fashioned waltz, giving a playful air to this increasingly bizarre storyline and emphasising the, well, dance between the males and females. Perhaps that's unduly kind to poor Egor, who finds everything "cool" - it's clear that Ira and Lyuba are really fighting over Valerii with Egor simply a tool in this game. Egor is uncomplicated and all too eager to please, with Valerii a self-appointed commander, determined to lead his merry band even when he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. Lyuba is the sweeter of the two girls, with Ira slightly more worldly and more confident. The four are there to graft, but it feels like an elaborate game is in play.

Despite some early issues with the pacing, The Harvest is a farcical, even absurdist, tale packed full of hidden meanings. Far more intelligent than you initially give it credit for, and certainly not a bad way to spend 70 minutes. You'll struggle to find any Belarusian new writing elsewhere in London, so as well as being a solid little production, it's worth watching for that reason alone.

The Harvest opened on 21st May and runs until 13th June 2015 at the Soho Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)



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