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Review: Faction Theatre's Liverpool-set Vassa Zheleznova, Southwark Playhouse

Vassa-Image-AWFaction Theatre has taken Maxim Gorky's play about a matriarchal struggle to maintain wealth and status for her family and set it in Liverpool during the 1990's dock strikes.

It made me think of the TV series Bread and there are other parallels too aside from the Liverpool setting. Vassa (Sian Polhill-Thomas) is a formidable woman who runs the family and its business. If you ever saw her at home rather than at work she would surely be sat at the head of the table like Ma Boswell in comedy series. Vassa also has a philandering and alcoholic husband (Luke Shaw) and children that disappoint her.

However Vassa Zheleznova's story is one of a woman who started out with very little, married into money - a shipping business - and quickly realised that if she didn't take control they would lose it all. The irony is that her family, far from recognising all her efforts, seem determined to destroy everything they have.

Her husband has been snapped by the paparazzi with an under age girl, her son has married an environmental campaigner and been arrested and her daughter Nata (Nicole Hartley) has been believes you can only be happy if you are poor. Then there is the little matter of  the dock workers' strike which means the business is losing money.

Vassa is ruthless in protecting the family and its lifestyle and doesn't baulk at breaking the law if necessary but her drive and determination has alienated her from the ones she seeks to protect. You get hints of where she came from and her early life - she too was under age when she met her husband. Vassa is a problem solver and Sian Polhill-Thomas captures moments when you can almost see her mind working through a solution. However, elsewhere the production doesn't really build the tension, it sometimes feels like you've stepped into a room partway through the conversation.  The result is an ending that lacks appropriate drama and almost feels like a footnote. Almost.

There is little of the movement and physical performance that Faction have become known for and as a result what is there doesn't feel fully committed. Setting Vassa Zheleznova in Liverpool is an interesting choice but I really want to see another production of the play with the revolution as the back drop, as originally intended, to see how that plays out. I'm giving it three stars.

It runs at the Southwark Playhouse until July 9 and is one hour and 40 minutes long without an interval.

Related posts:

* Review of Faction's Richard III.

* Currently in the main house at the Southwark Playhouse is A Midsummer Night's Dream performed by just seven actors with a little help from the audience.