Saturday, 3 March 2012
Theatre review: Purge
The play reveals a dark and disturbing piece of Eastern European history and explores a number of interesting angles without feeling overloaded: The general historical setting and the relationship between Finland and its then-Communist neighbour; Stalinist Russia's ruthless purging of the states it took over; the way women's lives don't necessarily get any better even if on the surface their world has changed; and a particularly dark turn into how guilt for doing something unforgivable to a loved one can make you do something even worse if it means not having to look them in the eye.
The way Oksanen's play, well-served by Elgiva Field's production, manages these heavy issues is by presenting us with a twisting thriller that's easy to get sucked into. Apparently harmless old lady Aliide hides any number of secrets. Her younger self (Rebecca Todd) seems a bit casual about her sister and niece's disappearance, perhaps because she makes no secret of being in love with her brother-in-law Hans (Kris Gummerus.) The tall, blond Scandinavian has awhich may go some way to explain why his sister-in-law is so keen to take his wife's place. And in the 1990s scenes, her past has more surprises to throw her way, and the latter half of the play has a number of big plot twists, most of which are pretty effective. With violence on stage and much worse violence described, to say that Purge makes Estonian history more palatable would be taking it a bit far. But the storytelling skills of the writer, director and cast means the glimpses into the bleak history of a comparatively obscure corner of Europe grabs you from the off and makes you care.
Purge by Sofi Oksanen in a translation by Eva Buchwald is booking until the 24th of March at the Arcola Theatre's Studio 2.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval.