The Last Ones, set in the aftermath of the 1905 Russian revolution, premieres in the UK at the Jermyn Street Theatre. The rarely staged play also marks Artistic Director Anthony Bigg‘s last hurrah at the venue.
Maxim Gorky‘s chaotic piece glimpses into the toxic relationships of the Kolomiitsevs. Head of the family and former police chief Ivan has gambled and drunk away his riches, which is why his jaded wife Sonya and five children (Peter, Vera, Nadia, Alexander and Lyubov) reside with his wealthy and generous brother Yakov. Ivan tries to bribe his way back into the police force (taking Alexander on a similar career path) and marry off Vera. The moral decay and contempt within the family is a metaphor for the wrongdoings of Russian political and authoritative figures of the time.
The play attempts much: corruption, addiction, unfaithfulness, illness, incest and betrayal all plague the Kolomiitsevs. There is parental failure, shared blame, and guilt. However, no matter how hard any of the characters try, they cannot escape their bloodline. In the end, everyone ends up exactly like the parent they despise.
It is easy to see why this play only just premiered in the UK. The way the (many) characters are tormenting themselves and each other is an excruciating watch. Central figure Sonya’s role is mostly wailing, all others communicate with screams. “The Last Ones” has an odd tone, randomly throwing out witticisms that unfortunately fall flat and completely drown in the heightened melodrama. Daragh O’Malley is brilliantly disturbing as the manipulative and abusive Ivan, and there are a few promising new faces such as Annabel Smith as strong-headed Lyubov, Omar Baroud as Yakorev and Kirsten Obank as Vera. The latter does a great job transitioning from frilly innocent girl to worn-out wife. It is a shame that she gets to shine only so late on into the performance.
All in all, director Anthony Biggs has done a bold thing by bracing this play, but could have dared to make it more his own. It is not a show that sells itself easily as catharsis is desperately sought for – this piece will mostly delight Russian play aficionados.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Scott Rylander